How to Support Employees Coming Out at Work
In this blog to mark National Coming Out Day, Nathan Salmon explores the challenges of coming out at work and how employers can support their employees. He also shares eight tips on how employers can create a work environment that supports LGBT+ employees.
Every year, National Coming Out Day is celebrated on the 11th October – the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The day isn’t a way of forcing anyone to come out or shaming those who haven’t – someone’s decision to inform others of their sexuality or gender is their own personal decision. Instead, it is a celebration of the bravery of all LGBT+ individuals who decide to come out and live openly. Now in its 33rd year, it is a day that acknowledges the difficulties of coming out and shows support to those who are in environments where it may not be safe to do so.
Coming out is a unique experience for anyone that’s part of the LGBT+ community. It can be both terrifying and liberating but is not something you ever do just once. Every time you join a new team, enter a new workplace, or meet anyone new, you are faced with the option of whether or not to come out. It’s something that any LGBT+ person will tell you continuously happens for their entire life. The people that an individual chooses to come out to is a very personal choice.
Coming out at work
For some coming out is not a difficult process whilst for others it can be a huge challenge, especially in the workplace. Many fear the reality that they might face discrimination, bullying or judgement. Simple conversations can become challenging where you panic about saying something that might reveal your ‘secret’.
LGBT+ people perform better in the workplace when they can be their full selves. It is therefore in the best interest of an employer that they create an environment which supports LGBT+ employees. However, more than a third of LGBT+ staff hide who they are at work.
My personal experience has shown that I thrive best in an organization where I can be my true authentic self, including coming out. When I’ve worked in organizations where I’ve felt I’m unable to come out, it has often led to anxiety, fear, and a feeling of not belonging. I never felt truly comfortable or at ease. This in turn has had an impact on my performance, my mental health, and my desire to leave the organization.
Providing an environment where employees can bring their full selves to work, should they choose to, and where they feel included creates a culture that allows all to thrive.
How can employers create a work environment that supports LGBT+ employees?
Here are my top eight tips for how employers can create an inclusive culture that support LGBT+ employees and creates an environment where individuals feel supported and able to come out in the workplace:
- Policies – Review your policies to make sure they’re fully inclusive. Make sure you have a non-discrimination policy in place that covers LGBT+ individuals and includes a coming out policy which provides guidance to managers to help support staff through the process. You should also consider creating and implementing a Trans Inclusion Policy.
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Networks – Do you have an LGBT+ network within your organization? Setting up a network provides support to individuals who choose to or are unsure whether to come out at work. It helps members of the community to feel included and visible within the workplace. We can help support your ERGs and maximize their potential and impact.
- Training – Provide training on LGBT+ awareness, anti-discrimination and harassment, and how to be an effective ally.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – Employee Assistance EAPs are a great tool which offer LGBT+ colleagues access to experts who can support them with coming out at work.
- Inclusive Communication – Provide opportunities for employees to share their own experiences through internal posts, lunch and learns, and speaker sessions. By sharing our own experiences, we provide support and encouragement to others, showing that it is ok for them to be open and their true selves within the workplace. Read more about how to make your communications more inclusive.
- Inclusive Culture – Focus on building an inclusive culture within your organization to allow employees to bring their full selves to work.
- Gender Inclusive Language – Use gender inclusive language and consider adding pronouns to signatures as a way to make it easier and more comfortable for others to do the same.
- Events – Celebrate Pride, LGBT+ History Month, and other LGBT+ events with authentic communication and meaningful engagement.
Coming out at work resources
There are also numerous useful resources available to support employees coming out at work, some of which I have included below: