Proud at work

June 21, 2019 Wesley Connor

4-minute read

Pride Flag

It’s Monday morning and I awake from another restless night’s sleep to see the clock on my bedside table read 4 a.m. My mind immediately starts racing and I begin writing the script in my head. I’ve been writing this script all week – working out  the various ways this could play out for me. Today I’m meeting my new boss.

The news of a new boss has sent my colleagues into an almost FBI-like character investigation, with no virtual stone left unturned. A simple Google search yields a goldmine of information that we use to piece together an image of our new boss like a jigsaw puzzle. Whereas my colleagues are mostly curious (and perhaps a little bored), I’m trying to surmise just how tolerant my new boss might be. You see, I’m gay. 

Much like the first time I’ve met all my new bosses, I contemplate whether or not I should just come right out and tell him to avoid any awkwardness. Or perhaps I should avoid it so that he gets to know the real “me” before it’s the “gay me.” I could always wait until he brings up family and then hope he asks if I’m married so that I can say, “Yes – but to a husband.” Maybe I should take the advice of a highly successful gay professional I know and leave my personal life out of it entirely

I wonder if this will impact my career. Will I still be considered for that promotion? Perhaps someone will have already told him. Maybe that’s why I’m the last team member to meet him. Maybe he’s uncomfortable and so he’s been avoiding the meeting.

My usual strategy is to enter the conversation with the goal of finding as many things in common as possible before outing myself, with the hope that they’ll be convinced I’m not entirely different from them. In the past, this strategy has led to perpetual people pleasing at the expense of my own needs.

For many years I believed that if I could just be smart enough, good-looking enough, and funny enough, I would be accepted at work. As newer generations enter the workforce, I’ve noticed that younger gay professionals are living loud and proud. They are not afraid to call out their sexuality with remarkable boldness and pride to anyone who will listen. This is just a newer strategy to find belonging at work.

The thing about rainbows

The thing about being gay is that we are constantly having to “come out of the closet” with every new relationship. Constantly having to correct and educate people so we can create a more inclusive workplace for ourselves. I believe that organizations have done a great job of focusing on diversity and inclusion, but it’s now time to evolve the conversation and elevate our intentions toward employee belonging. It’s only through high levels of belonging that we begin to tap into the collective genius of an organization and bring forward the unique gifts of every individual.

The challenge is that, in a misdirected attempt to achieve inclusion, many organizations have created a culture of terminal niceness, where issues of race, sexuality, privilege, and gender are not discussed for fear of offending. HR professionals avoid these conversations like the plague and often see opening this can of worms as a major risk to the organization, as it could be perceived as discriminatory if the wrong thing is said.

So we talk a lot about diversity, but say nothing. From my perspective, silence is the definition of privilege. Engaging in these difficult conversations is not our employees’ jobs. It’s the job of the senior leadership team, the HR team, and anyone who holds high levels of power within the organization to educate themselves and initiate the conversation. This will become paramount in the years to come, as newer generations are looking for their leaders and their companies to have an opinion and take a stand for something.

Looking forward

There is no question that our workforce is becoming increasingly diverse and will continue to challenge our corporate paradigms (i.e. the emergence of gender-neutral corporate language.) If organizations are going to survive and continue to thrive with these human complexities, the conversation needs to start now and it needs to begin with those who have the power and privilege within an organization.

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About the Author

Wesley Connor

Wesley is Senior Director, Organizational Development and Talent Management at Randstad Canada and has been an influential contributor to the design and execution of its world-class talent management strategy.

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