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Coming Out As LGBTQ+ at Work: 5 Steps to Help You Decide

As today is National Coming Out Day, we at Out in Tech are giving you five steps to help you come out at work. 

Being yourself at work is a privilege, and coming out at work is a journey that can often be uncomfortable for many LGBTQ+ employees. According to a 2018 survey from the Human Rights Campaign, 46 percent of LGBTQ+ employees are closeted at work. Reasons why include fear of being stereotyped (38 percent), making others uncomfortable (36 percent), losing connections with coworkers (31 percent), and false accusations of being attracted to someone at the office simply because they are LGBTQ+ (27 percent).

The good news is that more and more companies are actively working to make their environment more welcoming to LGBTQ+ folks, despite the lack of legal protection. Of course, Out in Tech will always be a safe space and resource for LGBTQ+ folks working in tech but here is a five-step guide to help you determine if it’s safe to come out at work, and how to proceed either way:

Step 1: Know your Company

The first thing you need to do is research your company. Go through the HRC Corporate Equality Index, the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity List, and the Stonewall Top 100 Employers guide (UK), to see if you spot your company. These lists rank corporations on their commitment to diversity, based on the actions they take to promote inclusion and equality so if you see your company on any of these, it might be a good sign.

Also, some important questions are: “Is there a gendered dress code?” “Are there gender-neutral restrooms?” “Are there pronouns in email signatures?”

Finally, find out whether your company has an anti-discrimination policy specifying that nobody can be hired, fired, or promoted based on sexuality. If you’re trans or genderqueer, it is critical that the policy includes gender identity. If you are at the interview stage, it is completely appropriate for you to inquire about a company’s stance (and resources available to queer and trans employees) if it is not explicit on their website.

Step 2: Observe your coworkers

To figure out if your work environment is queer-friendly, it is important to watch and listen to your colleagues carefully especially how they react to queer-related matters in the news or what “jokes” they make at the water cooler. It is also a good idea to see how other openly queer people are treated at work: whether they are respected or not. If you are wondering whether to accept an offer or not, try inquiring in your network if another queer works at the company (the Out in Tech Slack is a good resource) and speak to them.

It is important for queer people to trust their gut when coming out. We’ve often developed an intuitive tool kit that tells us whether or not it’s safe to come out in a certain place or to a certain person. 

Step 3: Consider talking with HR

In states where there’s no protective legislation in place, deciding whether or not to loop in human resources is tricky. Talking with HR might be helpful but could also end up causing you problems as they are responsible for protecting the interests of the company first.

It might therefore be helpful to ask strategic questions so you can read your audience before deciding how to proceed. Then see if the HR person leans into the conversation or offers supportive feedback. If your HR department is a good one, it’ll be receptive to how you’re feeling and your desire to come out. 

Step 4: Take your time

Some LGBTQ+ employees may wait a little longer to come out at work or never do it at all, and that’s perfectly OK, too. It is important to come out at your workplace on your own terms and at your own time. No one should pressure you to do so.

Step 5: If you can’t come out, consider seeking out an inclusive workplace

After considering all the risks, you might not feel comfortable coming out, and depending on your location, socioeconomic status, race, etc., coming out could be too big a risk to your safety, stability, and finances. To find an accepting environment, consider doing in-depth research to look for another workplace that you will be protected and respected, and ask other queer folks about workplace recommendations. You can start with our job board!

Want to connect with more queer techies? Join our growing Out in Tech Slack community, where you’ll find thousands LGBTQ+ folx to hang out with.

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