Is "Coming Out" At Work A Thing? How to be allies at work

For people to feel like they are truly being themselves and to be able to build trusting, real relationships within the workplace, it’s extremely important for LGBTQ+ people to feel they will be accepted if they disclose their sexuality or gender at work.

However, coming out at work can feel just as nerve-wracking as it can to come out to loved ones, especially if the company is not an LGBTQ+ ally. 

In fact, research by Stonewall UK shows that nearly 1 in 5 lesbian, gay and bi people are not open with anyone at work about their sexual orientation, and 1 in 4 trans people (26 per cent) aren’t open with anyone at work about being trans.

‍As we spend nearly 30% of our lives in the workplace, discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals needs to be handled so we can all live as our realist, authentic selves all the time.

We talked to Kavita Kapoor, who’s not only a Juno advisor, but she’s also Executive Director of Federation of Humanitarian Technologists, Chief of Learning for Open UK and mentors women in a PHD program doing robotics and AI up at the Edinburgh Centre For Robotics. 

Her own personal experience and work trajectory has allowed her to see how workspaces have implemented successful practices to include the LGBTQ+ community in every professional aspect. We asked her what organisations and members should think about when looking to improve inclusivity at work.‍

What can organisations do to improve their communication around inclusivity at the workplace?

“There's a real difference between being part of the LGBTQ+ community, working to share the message of equality across the pride spectrum and being outside it looking in. There is a real tension and it’s a difficult line to tread. 

My first observation is that if you’re an organisation really committed to being part of Pride then look at your own people, reach out to anyone that is part of that community and let them guide your support campaigns”

How can managers and HR departments make this process better in their organisations?

“The first thing I’d say to HR leaders is to understand the diversity in their community. For example, in the UK, there are a lot of international coming in from countries where being gay is illegal. You can’t make the same assumptions for a British hire and an international hire. It’s important to make the effort to understand those individuals and their culture. 

So the next question is how to make people feel comfortable as they come into the workplace, regardless if they’re in their 20s and they're fully out, or whether they might be uncomfortable revealing every aspect of their life. If you want people to feel like they’re part of the community then you need to be really open and put it on the door that this is an open workspace.”

What experiences have you had where you’ve been able to make an impact?

“The first place I really felt like I could bring my full self to work was at the London 2012 Olympics. They had a steering committee for BAME and LGBTQ+ individuals that had representation at director level. And we had the ability to influence campaigns and initiatives that the organisation was spearheading. We were instrumental in educating new HR teams on the right metrics to establish so they can prioritise being a truly inclusive organisation. There is a range of different touchpoints from inclusive terminology to educating leaders to give employees a voice.

More recently, I run an LGBTQ+ boxing organisation as a hobby and during the pandemic we were approached online by someone hoping to join. This person was transitioning at the time and was looking to connect but didn’t know whether we’d be open to having a trans member join us, or what our gender pronouns were. This made me realise we were not being inclusive enough even when we’re running an LGBTQ+ organisation.

I realised that there was so much more we had to do. We changed all of our copy and all of our marketing to show that we were fully inclusive in our organisation. And then that got me thinking: are the places that I’m working with also doing everything they can to be inclusive? The answer is no. We need to be much louder about the fact that any diverse person is welcomed to work in those organisations and that once they get here we will make sure that they’re comfortable.”

Finally, what can employees do to be better allies?

"Organisations are fundamentally about the people. I worked in both toxic and positive office cultures and it's always the humans who make a huge difference in making sure that everyone feels included. 

Creating networks for the LGBTQ+ community is a really good place to start. As I think that that’s an area where opportunities are being missed.

I personally work with a women’s network in the tech and startup community. These are great places to meet like-minded people and have that crossover with different sectors."

Thanks to Kavita, who kindly shared her experience and advice with us. You can download more information from the LGBT Work Report created by Stonewall here.

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