Hi. I’m gay. My name is Katrina and I’m still gay. We’re going to work together.
I hope that’s what’s going through your mind, at least. I try to predict. Read your face. This revelation is just the beginning of how my mind instantly becomes obsessed with your perceptions, what you’re thinking.
See, coming out is the big “secret” I have to reveal to everyone I meet. But they can look at me and tell, right? Not necessarily. Well, at least I can say I used to not be that obvious. I would mention it casually. Shift a pronoun. Say girlfriend.
That’s how it starts. A subtle hint at a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend. A gay bar. A parade. You have to do it. You have to come out to people all the time – especially at work. Whether you’re more of an “I’ll just put our picture here” or rolling out the rainbow carpet, it’s going to come up.
I find that most coming out approaches fall somewhere between the two based on how long they’ve been out of the closet anywhere (let alone at work) and the gut check. The gut check that says “it’s OK to be gay here.” I do it every time I interview and before I’ll ever come out to someone at work. Hell, I do it everywhere.
Why the hesitation? I wish I had a better answer than “don’t judge me.” The shame that creeps into my mind at times. I know I’m different and I’m proud of who I am. Deep down, I just want someone to know me for the quality of my work, not because I’m gay. If our relationship from minute 1 is “I just want a lesbian friend”, I’ll be limited to that. Eventually, I’ll be known as the lesbian, not the kick-ass writer that I am.
But here’s the thing. Nobody writes about coming out in the human resources industry, even if it’s a real thing that impacts teams. I know people living in liberal cities like San Francisco are probably thinking “really?” but it’s true. Being gay at work still isn’t safe and there’s still room to grow.
So what do you do? You can’t ask a bunch of straight HR executives how it feels to be gay at work. What they need to be accepted. I mean, it’s implied by the “human” part that HR would be the most accepting. That they’d lack judgement, but that’s not a fair assumption. They are human after all. Unconscious bias is just that, unconscious.
For instance, we talk about diversity initiatives instead of acceptance. They build elaborate and extensive ERGs that further segregate diverse groups rather than bringing them together.
The answer is I don’t know. I don’t know what to build or implement in every environment. But I hope you’ll at least stop to ask yourself this very important question before building your next diversity initiative: What’s the goal after all?
The goal, in my opinion? That you could create an environment where your life, whatever it is, isn’t taboo. That your work and the positive relationships you build alone are the true judgement of your value in a company.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.