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How Companies Can Support 2SLGBTQ+ Employees Coming Out in the Workplace

Stephan Petar

It’s Pride Month! You’ve likely seen companies post their Pride events, with rainbow cupcakes, drag performers and more. And while you may think it’s great to see workplaces creating an environment where people can be themselves – it’s not that straightforward.

The reality is that while more people are sharing their sexuality, many are closeted at work. A report by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation and Pride at Work Canada found more than half of 2SLGBTQ+ Canadians are not comfortable being out in the workplace. At Proof I feel privileged to be myself and have been asked how we can continue to make our company inclusive for 2SLGBTQ+ employees, but that’s not the case elsewhere.

Hiding sexual orientation is a safety mechanism. The potential risks differ for everyone across the 2SLGBTQ+ spectrum, especially those who are BIPOC. It’s a fear of unemployment, discrimination, hostility, aggression, harassment, isolation or missing growth opportunities.

When queer individuals choose to come out, it doesn’t happen once in a company-wide email announcing their sexuality. It’s a repetitive process that never ends because, even if progress is made, a new hire can quickly closet you again.

The coming out process at work is “a long-term negotiation between how we understand our identity and how we present those identities.” Some suggest it is a second career with constant planning, research and strategizing – and they’re not wrong.

The case for supporting authenticity at work is strong. Being your authentic self helps increase wellbeing and allows for deeper connections with coworkers, higher engagement and increased job satisfaction.

Celebrating Pride Month with events and social media doesn’t directly lead to an inclusive environment. It is the bare minimum that can be done. Only 59 per cent of organizations communicate strong leadership messages on the importance of LGBTQ2+ inclusion.

How can you foster a safe environment for coming out? Employers must:

Set inclusive policies and practices proactively.

These encourage people to be their authentic selves. They need to be easily accessible and developed and reviewed constantly. Not just when a 2SLGBTQ+ person is hired, when someone comes out or an issue is flagged.

Indeed found 57 per cent of respondents believe employers should have specific benefits for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, such as diversity training or benefits for domestic partners. Indeed also found that 45 per cent of prospective employees check employee benefits to ensure inclusivity. 

Policies and practices need to be embedded in a company’s DNA and developed by consulting with the 2SLGBTQ+ community to ensure they are reflective of their needs. It cannot be left to heterosexual employees. As a gay man, access to PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is important to me to prevent HIV transmission. For trans employees, it could be policies surrounding changing one’s name on work files or financial support for lifesaving gender affirming care.  

Companies must acknowledge queer moments beyond Pride Month.

myGwork found 33 per cent of 2SLGBTQ+ women and non-binary professionals felt it was vital to celebrate key awareness dates like Lesbian Visibility Week. There is a fine line between being meaningful and performative. Always strive to provide meaningful action, audience takeaways or resources.

This also means reflecting on difficult moments. Internal statements to employees about 2SLGBTQ+ violence and anti 2SLGBTQ+ legislation show deep commitment for queer workers. Personally, I was moved when a colleague reached out after the Club Q shootings asking if I was okay. I wasn’t okay, and neither was I after Pulse Nightclub or when a queer person was beat at Hanlan’s Point – but no one ever asked. That same day, my team leader dedicated our weekly meeting to discuss and ask questions. This moment reassured me, and likely others, that my workplace was a safe environment.

If employees feel unsafe to come out in the workplace, we put their wellbeing at risk – which is unfair and is not how a business should be run. In the long term, this will prevent companies from attracting and retaining talent. myGwork found over two-thirds of 2SLGBTQ+ people would leave a job if they couldn’t be out in the workplace.

Consultation, policies and visibility. These are the things that help foster an equitable, diverse, inclusive and safe environment. A workplace that will encourage others to come out and future employees to come as their authentic self.