After sharing my pronouns, I’ve had a few people tell me they just “don’t want to” use them. They don’t give a reason or explanation. It’s very declarative. They’re never asking a question or permission to be so dismissive of my identity. They just decide. No pronouns for Kat. I can’t imagine what it would be like sharing pronouns at work and having someone be so dismissive. My team was incredible accepting.
Not everyone is. The thing these folks don’t understand is that knowing of myself makes me glow. I’m not the only one. I made a friend after one of my building belonging and pronoun education sessions a few years ago. We clicked from the first time we spoke and decided to set a monthly call. We refer to it as “Mentorship or Whatever.” It is by far one of my favorite calls each month. We talk about the good parts of life and the hard stuff, too. But we always spend a little time talking about our joy.
Last time we spoke, they were going to dinner with their parents after our call. They weren’t sure if they should wear a particular outfit. After seeing the outfit and watching how their face lit up as they spun to show me the details, I insisted they wear it. “You’re glowing,” I practically shouted. “The people who love you deserve to see you when you glow. If you have any doubts, remind yourself: I am glowing.” That night, their mother made a beautifully affirming comment and they shared a lovely dinner. It was just the kind of night so many queer people pray for but rarely experience. A night where they can glow out loud.
Glowing At Work
While acceptance may be evolving in some of our homes, the data suggests queer people are under the impression the workplace isn’t as accepting. The persistent headlines about discrimination don’t help. HRC Foundation found that 46% of LGBTQ+ workers say they are closeted at work. Considering nearly 6% of US adults now identify as LGBTQ+, that’s a lot of people.
For decades, compared with the general population, LGBTQ+ people have faced increased risk of experiencing economic insecurities, such as higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and public benefits use. Not only has the pandemic disproportionately affected LGBTQ+ people, but the recovery has also likely perpetuated existing inequities, leaving many LGBTQ+ workers stranded in low-quality jobs that offer poverty wages, few benefits, and limited protections.
Reasons vary for why people stay silent about their sexual and gender identities, but workplace stigma and potential repercussions were among the top of my own list. I didn’t come out at work for a million little and big reasons. Reasons that are hard to measure with a bunch of surveys. Then I think about the fluidity of knowing myself and how that has changed. It makes coming out a lifelong process of navigating where to be open about my identity.
Sharing Pronouns In The Workplace
We come out all the time but two scenarios specifically stressed me out when it came to work: interviews and then coming out to my team. This International Pronouns Day, I want to offer some advice on how to handle these moments.
First, I want to give you permission to not come out at work. You don’t owe anyone that kind of transparency. If you worry that someone would treat you differently based on who you are, be cautious with what you share. That’s for your mental health, let alone your career. Not every workplace or team is a safe place. That’s the reality in a world that’s trying to politicize identity.
If you’re wondering about the “two sides” of this conversation, let me be clear on my thoughts for you. There are not two sides to a conversation about if people exist. They do. That’s all that you need to know to “accept” them. In the same ways you want freedom, so does everyone else.
Coming Out During Interviews
If you want to be out at work, the first place I’d come out is during the interview. It’s the time to do all the vibe checks you need to do to be happy. For the older folks reading this blog, a vibe check is when you’re trying to feel someone out to understand their values.
One way you might do that is to simply introduce yourself with pronouns. Ask about how sharing pronouns at work has impacted other employees. Notice how they react. I’m not saying make a judgement about the whole company or a person based on one reaction, just take note of how it makes you feel. That matters.
During that interview process, ask about benefits and policies that protect and support queer people and families. Here are a few things that companies can provide:
- Equal Benefits For Same-Sex Partners: Ensure that same-sex partners of employees receive the same benefits as opposite-sex partners. This includes health insurance coverage, family leave, and access to company resources.
- Inclusive Health Care Coverage: Comprehensive health care coverage that includes gender-affirming care, mental health support, and coverage for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
- Diversity And Inclusion Training: Self-explanatory. These programs can foster a more welcoming environment by helping employees and management better understand LGBT issues. If you’d like to provide pronoun education, let’s talk.
- Paid Parental Leave: Extend paid parental leave policies to include all types of families. This helps LGBT employees who become parents through adoption, surrogacy, or other means to bond with their children without financial stress.
Do your research, too. Look at their website to see what causes they support. Look at Google results. I know that sounds simple, but Google the company name and “anti-LGBT.” See what comes up. The company name alone won’t get you the real story.
Post-Hire: Coming Out To Your Team
Once you’ve been hired, you’re going to come out again in the process of sharing pronouns at work. A lot at first. Start with the people you have connected with. Come out to your closest people, but also make sure to teach them how to correct other people when they get pronouns wrong.
Consider also communicating with your HR person. The goal of that conversation is two-fold. First, I want you to explicitly tell that HR person what details you want shared about you. They don’t need to “warn your boss” that you’re trans or something. Tell them what intel you want them to communicate, if any. Second, make sure you have a mutually agreed upon plan should someone intentionally get your pronouns wrong. Do this before anything happens so you’re not scrambling to communicate how you want things handled while feeling emotionally attacked.
Finally, come out to your team. Being who you are matters. You can help your team go into the world and be better family members, friends, and parents. By allowing people to see you exist fully, they have a chance to be better to others and that matters. Does it matter more than you being ok? No. But it does have impact; I hear it all the time.
Coming out doesn’t have to feel like a career-ending choice. Start during the interview process and do your due diligence. Pick roles where you can be who you are and assure they offer the benefits that support you and other queer employees and their families. It’s not too much to ask. You deserve to glow.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.