Overcoming fear is one of the biggest challenges LGBTQ+ employees face in the workplace. I personally know. 

3 Steps to Take When an Employee Comes Out

  1. Listen. Ensure employees feel acknowledged, seen and respected.
  2. Reassure. Ensure employees are reassured that they will be safe from discrimination and harassment and that being their true selves will not impact their career advancement.
  3. Support. Do whatever it takes to make your LGBTQ+ employees feel themselves, and comfortable, from the start.

Being out shouldn’t be so scary, and employers have an essential role to play. By listening, investing in retention and facilitating dialogues, companies and workplace managers can make a meaningful difference in their team’s experience and help lessen fears that remain all too real.

A recent survey by Indeed highlighted that the majority of LGBTQ+ employees experience workplace discrimination, and more than one-fourth make an effort to hide their identity at work. I remember when clients would ask me, “Are you married?” Not knowing what their beliefs were, I’d hide it. Being myself was fearful, and on at least one occasion that I knew of, I lost a client for being myself.

When I started my own company, I still shielded myself in many ways. Being Black and gay, I felt I had two strikes against me. I’ve had to overcome that fear over time. However, it was no easy feat. I had to continuously ask myself, “why would I want to work with someone who doesn’t want to work with me because of who I am?” 

To overcome my fears, I first had to accept who I was. Once I accepted myself, I realized my fears were holding me back from building the company I had always dreamed of. I kept asking myself that same question and began to surround myself with people who valued my leadership, my work and my company without any personal reservations. 

Having gone through this journey myself, I now want to do what I can to help others build the company of their dreams. A company that truly helps its LGBTQ+ employees makes them feel that they can bring their true selves to work without fearing it will hinder their careers. 

More From Rick HammellRemote Work Is Great for DEI. Here’s Why.


Really Listen to Employees 

I want people to feel comfortable in their own skin, and my experiences have helped shape the environment I create for employees. When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, many organizations will just tick the boxes. But we need to evolve, just as DEI is evolving to include things ranging from gender fluidity to disabilities.

The time to evolve is now. Today, employees are attracted to companies where DEI efforts are more than skin deep. DEI is no longer a term that occasionally gets dropped at HR meetings, but rather a strategy that companies should be incorporating into their everyday culture. 

Atlas is a global organization with more than 500 employees from all over the world. So, when we speak culturally, we’re an extremely diverse company. Recently, however, an employee in Brazil called me out on this premise. They let me know that Brazil is made up mostly of people of African descent, but our Brazil team only has two people of African descent on it. That conversation was valuable. I’m happy that we’ve created an environment where my team is comfortable coming to me about this. Now we can work to hire more diverse talent in Brazil and around the world. 

This needs to be thought about from the second an employer hires an employee who may be from a different background, religion or sexual orientation. It starts with the hiring process and having diverse members on a hiring committee. 


Retain Your LGBTQ+ Employees

Hiring talent and retaining talent are two different things. Companies need to incorporate inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ workers into the workplace.

At Atlas, we have a Pride employee resource group, a safe space for LGBTQ+ employees to discuss workplace and personal issues. The group recently hosted a guest speaker, a Big Three consulting firm partner, who led a conversation around the challenges faced by people who not only identify as LGBTQ+ but also as part of other marginalized groups. The speaker shared personal stories and insights that resonated with many in the audience. The positive and uplifting event, we have been told, left employees feeling empowered and supported. Simple events and efforts like this can make a big difference.

Companies can also retain LGBTQ+ employees by protecting them from discrimination and harassment through the implementation of mandatory unconscious bias training. Such training helps employees recognize and address biases they have but don’t regularly contemplate. Consider it a small but essential step toward creating a safe, inclusive workplace that allows employees to be themselves.

Lives are too short to be spent in hiding. There’s no need for our community to feel the fear and shame some of us carried with us growing up.

I have felt firsthand what it’s like to not live one’s authentic self. I came out in front of about 2,000 kids in a high school auditorium. After a heated discussion about the LGBTQ+ community, I wrote a poem titled “Taking a Walking in My Shoes.” I read it during an assembly, starting with “I’m gay, and that’s the only thing different about me.” 

The result: I lost most of my male friends and was outed to my family by a teacher. My family’s response was less supportive than I had hoped for, and I eventually felt more comfortable living outside their home.

After high school, I moved to Atlanta and was relieved to see Black, gay men who looked like me. That’s also where I got my start in HR. I realized that my mission in life is to help people, and HR gave me that opportunity.

My point? Do whatever it takes to make your LGBTQ+ employees feel themselves, and comfortable, from the start. Lives are too short to be spent in hiding. The world is changing and there’s no need for our community to feel the fear and shame some of us carried with us growing up. We need to build a world that is accepting of others, and we, as companies, hold so much power in leading that change. We need to take all steps necessary to ensure our employees feel reassured that they will be safe from discrimination, harassment, and that being their true selves will not impact their career advancement. This is where resource groups can come in and ensure that all employees feel acknowledged, seen, and respected.

It’s also important to remember that within the LGBTQ+ community everyone has their own experience. My experience as a Black, gay man will differ from others.

Read More About Diversity, Equity and Inclusion5 Key Tips for LGBTQ+ Grads Joining the Workforce


Be Open to Conversation 

I come from a conservative, religious family. When I came out, they had reservations because of their beliefs. Through conversation, my family’s initial questions about me being gay were answered. They came to understand my struggles and are ultimately proud of what I’ve accomplished in the face of adversity. 

When it comes to having these conversations as a company, it can be difficult. However, keep in mind the impact of communicating internally on an organization. If a company is not ready to take a bold stance in support of the LGBTQ+ community externally, there is value in letting your employees know they are seen, heard and appreciated from within. As individuals, we all want to feel supported and valued by the organizations we are a part of. We have an advantage at Atlas. I’m a minority and part of the LGBTQ+ community and have made an effort to ensure the organization is diverse at all levels and in every sense of the word.

How can leaders who aren’t members of the LGBTQ+ community make that happen?

Ask your people. It can be as simple as asking your employees in an anonymous survey if they feel comfortable in their own skin. If not, reflect on what you can do better, allow your people to offer feedback and develop practices and policies that promote a safe and supportive environment. 

Perhaps the most important part of having conversations is to make sure they are happening year around. Remember, you can be an ally every day of the year, not just in June.

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