If your work is just a means to an end then what’s wrong with hiding your true self? You clock in, play pretend for eight hours then run home where you can swop that mask for a Snuggie and talk to your cats in peace. Sounds straight forward enough. For some it might be.
However, for members of the LGBT community, it’s more of a struggle to be themselves in the workplace. Many of the things non-LGBT people take for granted, like talking about your weekend, become an emotional mindfield. And if you do decide to come out then that’s just the beginning. LGBT people can come out once a week or daily to clients or candidates. But hiding your true identity brings with it a myriad of problems too.
Hiding in plain sight
A recent report from Deloitte called Uncovering Talent found that 83% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people hide their identity at work, often because their superiors expect them to. Day to day this can entail disengaging from social events, not having photographs of partners on their desk or dressing a certain way to avoid negative attention. LGBT people find it hard to advance within their companies as they report feeling distracted, avoiding certain clients or colleagues and failing to find suitable mentors to guide them. Often their choice to not reveal too much of themselves can be viewed as ‘not being a team player’ which can only hamper their chances of progression.
“Far from being a nonissue”
On the surface it looks like companies are beginning to embrace LGBT rights. Many organisations are organising in-house networks to support their staff, such as Google’s Gayglers. CEOs of two of the world’s most powerful financial institutions, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and Jamie Dimon, of JPMorgan Chase, have spoken out in favour of same sex marriage. Even former Mozilla CEO, Brendan Eich, was forced to resign when it was revealed he donated money to a campaign to make same-sex marriage illegal in California.
However, according to the director of corporate programs at the Human Rights Campaign, ‘being gay in the corporate world is still far from being a nonissue’ due to the many subtle biases in the workplace. The business world is one of the slowest areas in society to adopt new norms of acceptance. There are very few openly gay executives in the Fortune 1000.
Being yourself is good for business
This has led to backlash from people such as John Browne, former BP CEO. Browne argues that coming out is good for business. He argues that employees that are ‘out’ in the workplace are more committed, more productive and more creative, tackling the crisis of engagement and retention. Firms that embrace gay rights also win the war for talent as it sends positive signals to jobseekers.
Cultures where you can be comfortable being yourself excite and inspire the creative thinkers and innovators. With widespread employee disengagement and a decline in passionate workers companies need to do whatever it takes to make their talent comfortable and happy. Organisations can provide a safe space for staff to come out by facilitating networking opportunities with senior leaders, provide diversity training for staff to educate them to the varied experience across the LGBT community and assuring staff that their sexuality will not negativity impact their career.
Valuable energy is being wasted trying to hide our true selves. It empties our passion, leaving us disconnected from projects and full of dread every Sunday night. Providing a safe space for workers to be themselves will involve more than just an anti-discrimination policy. We need to all work together to create an open workplace where people can be comfortable enough to bring their whole selves to work.