Out At Work

By now just about everyone has heard the apothegm, ” were here were queer get used to it”.

Coming Out At Work

The LGBT movement has quickly emerged as one of the most successful human rights initiatives in my lifetime thanks to enormous changes in culture, entertainment, media, public attitudes, and legal systems during the past ten years. The LGBT community, which is strong and confident, works to provide equal opportunities at work. Foundations like the Human Rights Campaign publish an annual Corporate Equality Index designed to benchmark corporate policies related to LGBT related to employees and and continue to raise the bar on companies striving to achieve a 100% rating.  Non-profit organizations like Out & Equal work tirelessly to offer of resources and programs that aid and support the development of workplace equality in the workplace.

According to a 1996 Newsweek magazine poll of actual voters, 84% of respondents agreed that gays and lesbians should have the same rights and protections as other employees. According to a public opinion survey conducted in 1996 by ICR Survey Research Group, 85% of respondents (up from 75% in 1992) were in support of equal job opportunities for gays and lesbians, but 57% were against same-sex marriage. According to a 1998 poll by the Princeton Survey Research Associates for Newsweek magazine, 83% of the general public agreed that gays and lesbians should have the same opportunities to find employment.

The main message is that an oppressed group of people took a stand and came out to be proud of a true aspect of who they are, and from what it appears, everyone else is happy about helping to make that happen.

Who among us can’t relate to wanting that, I ask? And what if a large portion of those who favor LGBT equality do so because they are aware of their own struggles with being LGBT? Don’t they owe it to the LGBT community to help them on their journey?

Ash Beckham delivered an extraordinary Ted Talk in Boulder, Colorado this September, a talk that ignited a national conversation.  Ash declared that “Coming Out” is a universal concept that applies to everyone.   Content creators for the Huffington Post and Upworthy watched as articles featuring Ash’s talk soared to top of site traffic ratings and exploded virally across social media.

Now, let’s really think about this.  Is “coming out” an exclusive right of passage for the LGBT community?  And if not, how could this concept open new doors to inclusiveness in the workplace?

There are many other people who’s authentic voices may not feel entirely welcomed or embraced at work.  Aside from the obvious differences we see between people there are many that go unseen.  Take those with disabilities for example, perhaps feeling as though the knowledge of their disability may be perceived as a vulnerability on a team.  Take introverts who find themselves surrounded in a work culture dominated by extroverts shouting their personal successes and influence from megaphones in meetings.  Take the single Mother watching while those who get ahead tote gratitude for the support of their spouses.

The unique challenges that we all have and our personal experiences do in fact develop specialized skill sets and capabilities and a company unable to tap into those nuances’ have such a missed opportunity.  Often a person feeling oppressed can’t even recognize the gift they have let alone think through how to put it to use in a workplace.

But it’s even bigger than that.  When asked about regrets, the dying shed a chilling light on what we might face if we can’t “come out” with the #1 regret relating to not being true to ourselves and #2 being for working so hard.

Amazon.com is chalked with best selling books designed to aid in finding one’s life purpose.  I’d argue that no book could provide the benefit that comes from simply being able to be your authentic self and so much of that can work against a person if the work place culture is off. Imagine a society where the identification of special talents and skills is closely correlated with opportunities for professional advancement. Just think of how successful a business could become if they mastered this. Last but not least, picture a workforce that is fervently committed and fiercely passionate about using their own talents to realize a bigger, shared goal. That business would be impossible to halt.

Perhaps the LGBT movement can serve as an inspiration for everyone, and empowered LGBT people will recognize the chance to repay the effort and assistance they receive every day. A business that wishes to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace may think about hiring and keeping LGBT professionals as a means to encourage others to “come out” at work.

I sincerely look forward to celebrating many “coming outs” in my professional career and to the supporting those who do.   As Ash Beckham says “we need you out here … we are bigger than our closets.”  I’d add, companies can’t achieve big things without big people.

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Cameron Comstock

Cameron Comstock is a leader with The Hartford who specializes in driving virtual employee engagement and management innovation. He is is an expert at leveraging contemporary communication methodology to drive high levels of collaboration aimed at solving business problems and cultural transformation. Connect with Cameron.

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