As I entered the early stages of my career over a decade ago, the professional landscape looked vastly different. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I, like many others, felt the burden of compartmentalizing my personal and professional identities. Even today, a significant number of LGBTQ+ employees are closeted at work, as revealed by a 2018 study conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations in the United States.
4 Facts About LGBTQ+ People in the Workplace
- 46 percent of LGBTQ+ workers say they are closeted at work.
- 50 percent of non-LGBTQ+ workers reported that there are no employees at their company who are open about being LGBTQ+.
- Working in an unwelcoming environment that is not always accepting of LGBTQ people leads to 31 percent feeling unhappy or depressed at work.
- 20 percent of LGBTQ+ workers have felt that they were passed over for job opportunities because they were LGBTQ+.
Source: Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 study A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ Workers Nationwide
Discrimination and acceptance exist along a spectrum, with varying degrees in between. I haven’t experienced the most extreme forms of overt discrimination, such as direct personal attacks or fearing for my job due to my sexual orientation. However, earlier in my career, I found myself facing the oppressive burden of homophobic “jokes” during meetings or assuming questions about my wife or girlfriend for those who knew I was in a relationship.
Flash forward to today, and the genuine acceptance I’ve received from the people I work with at Bumble is palpable. This is evident through the spontaneous congratulatory cards, small gifts and social media messages my partner Sebastian and I received upon announcing our engagement, as well as the number of colleagues who flew in from all over the world to celebrate our marriage earlier this year.
All of this has given me hope that we are moving toward a more inclusive future where authenticity and acceptance can coexist harmoniously within the workplace. As I reflect on my experience as a gay man navigating his career, here are a few lessons I’ve learned, which I hope you can benefit from, too.
Watch for Early Signs of Inclusivity
When searching for a job, evaluate how potential employers embrace diversity and inclusivity, not only through inclusive language in their job postings but also by demonstrating a genuine commitment to understanding and respecting your identity.
Bumble, for example, went beyond mere words in its commitment to inclusivity. From the moment I entered the interview process, I noticed small gestures that spoke volumes about the company’s values and dedication to creating an inclusive environment. I remember feeling surprised when interviewers asked about my name’s pronunciation, introduced themselves with their pronouns right from the start and asked about mine. Joining the company felt like a natural decision because their values were ingrained in their everyday practices.
When interviewing with various companies, ask yourself questions such as: Are they willing to accommodate your interview needs as a person with a disability or work schedule as a busy parent? Is the interview committee diverse across gender, race, age and/or culture? These initial signs can provide glimpses into the company’s culture and the work environment you may eventually choose to be a part of.
Seek Insider Perspectives
During the interview process, see if you are scheduled to connect with someone who works at the company but in a different department. This can provide you with valuable insights into the overall culture and dynamics of the organization beyond the specific team you’re interviewing for. This additional perspective can help you make a more informed decision about whether the company’s culture aligns with your values and expectations. After all, the most authentic company ambassadors are those who work there.
Feel free to consider if you have LinkedIn contacts or friends who may know of someone currently working at the company you’re interviewing for, too. Don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction through them, and once connected, offer to take them out for a cup of coffee.
Embrace Your Unique Identity
The process of coming out at work, where people disclose their sexual orientation to colleagues, is a personal decision that varies for each person and may change over time. In fact, some may deliberately decide not to come out in their workplace or choose to do so selectively based on the type of relationships they’ve built with colleagues. While coming out can be empowering for many, it’s important to recognize that a person’s sexuality and gender identity are not contingent upon others being aware of them.
Personally, I don’t feel the need to announce my sexual orientation to every person I meet at work. More often than not, it naturally weaves itself into the conversation. For instance, I may casually mention, “My husband and I have plans to take our dogs hiking this weekend,” or I may reminisce about attending the Pride parade in London.
If you’ve taken time to reflect and intentionally decide that you want to come out at work, I encourage you to consider the timing and approach that feels right for you. Whether connecting with your colleagues one-on-one, sharing the news with only your supervisor or integrating it into natural conversation, choose a method that aligns with your comfort level. Additionally, seeking support from trusted colleagues or friends who have also gone through the process can be invaluable.
Nurture Strong Bonds with LGBTQ+ Colleagues
Building meaningful relationships with LGBTQ+ colleagues can be crucial for your personal and professional growth. By investing in these connections throughout the organization, you build community and can also gain thought partners, advocates, and mentors who will support you throughout your career.
My colleague Jonathan Lau, Bumble’s director of global product marketing, said it best: “When you establish strong bonds with your LGBTQ+ colleagues, you create a network of individuals who can amplify each other’s voices, push for meaningful change, and have fun while doing it. Even though I’m a member of the LGBTQ+ community who uses our product, I engage with and listen to my LGBTQ+ colleagues regularly to ensure we’re making updates so anyone can make meaningful connections on the app.”
Employee resource groups dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community can also offer a valuable platform for fostering these relationships. Bumble’s ERG, Spectrum, provides Bumble’s LGBTQ+ employees an intentional space to connect with like-minded colleagues, share experiences and collaborate on initiatives promoting inclusivity.
Educate and Promote Understanding
Finally, embracing and expressing your true self while understanding others’ limited knowledge about LGBTQ+ issues is essential. Though the responsibility of education shouldn’t solely fall on the shoulders of people in underrepresented or marginalized communities, I do my best to demonstrate patience and provide guidance when faced with insensitive questions.
For instance, when someone makes the assumption that I dislike sports based on the common stereotype that gay men are not athletic, I politely clarify that I have a passion for sports and actively engage in them alongside my closest friends. It is crucial to promote understanding because not everyone intends harm; often, it is a matter of lacking awareness.
I also encourage you to champion corporate partnerships that specialize in employee training and education. For instance, Bumble provides financial support to the Human Rights Campaign and is working with the organization to develop actionable advice for our members and provide training and education for our workforce. Actively advocating for these partnerships allows you to play a role in cultivating a workplace environment that is both inclusive and well-informed.
Ultimately, navigating your career as an LGBTQ+ person is a deeply personal and empowering experience. Embrace your authenticity, advocate for yourself and others and educate those around you. Your voice is a powerful tool for change, and by staying true to yourself, you can create a ripple effect that inspires others and fosters an inclusive workplace and a society that thrives on acceptance.