Tips For Coming Out At Work

by Vault Careers | July 22, 2011

  • My Vault

Same-sex couples about to get married in New York are going to see their lives change in more ways than just the legal ability to call their partners, husband or wife.  Many of those changes are going to become evident in the workplace, as gay and lesbians look to share their special news with co-workers and even introduce their spouses during company functions. 

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For those who have been openly honest about their relationships, this may not be a problem, but for those who have been secretive about their sexual orientation, the idea of coming out at work might be frightening.  Here are some tips to make it easier:

Know Who You Are.  “You always have to manage your brand whether you are gay, lesbian, straight, bi-sexual or transgender,” said Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, a career expert with Vault.com.  “You always have to be professional first.”

If you have been thinking of coming out to co-workers, it is important that you are able to live in your own skin.  Riley Folds is the founder of Out For Work, a national non-profit dedicated to educating and empowering LGBTQ students to transition from academia to the workplace. 

“There have been students who are strong LGBTQ group leaders and have experience in public speaking, but are afraid of putting it on their resume, because it is LGBTQ related,” Folds said.  “If you don’t do that, you are competing against other candidates without showing all your strengths and you are discrediting your experiences.”

Folds believes you should strongly identify with what you are and should be able to speak to it on an interview.  Being able to strongly identify with being gay will make it easier to share that with those you work closely with on a daily basis. 

Know The Organization.  Folds adds that it is important to do your homework and learn about the organization’s attitudes toward LGBTQ individuals.  “Is the company LGBTQ inclusive; do they have Employee Resource Groups for LGBTQ employees; do they support initiatives or take part in any advocacy for these groups,” Folds explains.  “Know the background of the company before you determine how you want to go about making the announcement.”

Take Baby Steps.  Folds suggests testing the waters a bit, whether it means checking into health benefits or putting a picture of your significant other on your desk.  If you want to start telling people, Thanasoulis-Cerrachio suggests going to Human Resources first or a close friend at work and then asking for their advice on how to tell others.  Chances are, telling one person might do the trick.  Office gossip moves fast, so you may not have to work hard at all in coming out.

Just Make It Part of The Conversation.  If someone asks you how your day went, career experts say the best way to bring it up is to just tell the truth – a gay man might simply state, “I went out with my husband to a great new steakhouse that opened up in my neighborhood.”     

Thanasoulis-Cerrachio believes no one should have to stress about the situation.  “If something joyous happens in your life, you should be able to tell people,” she said.  “Just introduce it into casual conversation.  The longer you wait, the more the situation becomes bigger than it really should be.”

Don’t Make It About You.  The company party is a great place to meet the significant others of your co-workers and you should be able to bring your husband or wife as someone involved in a gay marriage, but don’t make a big showing of it.  Thanasoulis-Cerrachio stresses that you should just mention you will be bringing your partner to your manager before the event.  “I was going to bring Diane,” she offers.  “Is that ok.  I’d love for you to meet her.”

By bringing it up at a company event, you also run the risk of damaging your career and not for the reasons you think.  “You are working every day with your colleagues and building relationships with them, but you have held this back from them,” Folds explains.  “Some people might see it as a form of betrayal and that could hurt your team’s productivity.  It might be better to tell them before the event.”

Do Your Job.  At the end of the day, work is about getting work done.  “The company wants to make money,” Folds said.  That’s the bottom line.  If you can help them make money that should be all that matters.” 

--Jon Minners, Vault.com

Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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