On coming out as queer in the corporate world

Being queer and walking into a place that you know is going to be primarily hetero and cis-gender dominated can be intimidating in a lot of ways, especially when it’s for a new job. But it can also be empowering. Before I came to the corporate tech world of NYC, I worked at a small LGBTQ community center where I didn’t have to feel nervous to mention what I did that weekend with my girlfriend or even give a second thought to coming out in the work place.

So to say this was a big career transition for me is to put it lightly. Social activism and advocacy runs in my blood, it’s what gives me strength to keep going every day. I love discussing, educating and empowering others to also speak out for what they believe in, especially when it comes to LGBTQ rights. So when I walk into a setting where I know I am going to be a minority, I see it as an opportunity to do just that.

Women working in the tech industry are a hot topic of discussion right now, so I felt unsure about coming out as a queer woman in the industry. At first I wasn’t sure if it was necessary to come out, I felt like maybe I just wouldn’t discuss that part of my life at work. But I’ve found that my queer identity is so important to me that if I don’t come out, I don’t feel like I can fully be myself in a space.

The first week at work I could feel it bubbling up in conversations, like I just needed to express my true self to my coworkers who were slowly becoming my friends. One night after work I was grabbing a glass of wine with a few other employees I worked closely with. As the conversation turned to dating, I decided to go for it.

The conversation just flowed and it didn’t need to be a big deal, they were all fine with it. That felt like such a huge relief! Going forward in my work, I felt like I was better able to express and be myself.

Often members of the LGBTQ community have to consider a lot of different things going into a new work place that people not a part of our community never give a second thought to. For example, in the break room making coffee on a Monday morning talking about our weekends, my stream-of-consciousness is something along the lines of: “should I mention that weird Tinder date I went on this weekend; should I keep the gender pronouns neutral so I don’t make them uncomfortable, I just won’t mention it.” Whereas my coworkers don’t give a second thought to mentioning they went apple picking with their boyfriend on Sunday and then totally botched their apple pie (LOL). When I mentioned to my straight friends that I was struggling with the decision to come out at my new job they were taken aback. They had never considered that before.

I was having this discussion with a queer friend this past week and she mentioned that she also had to consider her dress code at her new company (I’m lucky enough to have a very casual dress code for work). Her new place of employment had a very business formal dress code, with specific rules of button-up shirts, dress/skirt lengths, ect. When given the dress code she realized that she felt more comfortable with the clothes described in the male category. In that moment, she knew that walking into the office on her first day dressed in her fabulously dapper apparel, she was going to automatically be outed and most likely turn heads. She was right, all the women in the office gave her a once over and the men all seemed to give her a genuinely confused look. She has said that after a month of being there, it’s become much more comfortable: the women all ask her for dating advice and some of the guys have even asked her where she gets her bowties from.

We’ve both found that people will often surprise you in a good way when you come out. Ultimately, I feel that for me coming out at my new position has been a great experience. I can openly talk about social issues I care about with coworkers; I also can inform and educate my friends about a community they maybe don’t know that much about.

So, if you are feeling like you need to come out at work to truly be yourself, I say go for it! But it’s always important to keep in mind safety and I suggest coming out to your closest coworkers first. For some (like me), it’s integral to their identity to be out in every space they exist in, others find they don’t want to disclose their personal life at work. Both are totally fine, it’s all up to you and your comfort level and needs!

Someday I hope that we live in a world where members of the LGBTQ community don’t have to give a second thought to coming out at their job. However, we aren’t quite there yet. There’s still a lot of work to be done, especially for our trans* community members who can still be legally fired for being themselves in many states, including New York. But you know, LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace sends a powerful message to the world. I’m proud to be a part of that.

Corinne Werder is truly a vagabond at heart, having lived in South Africa and Honduras after graduating in 2012. Corinne’s favorite things in the world include blogging about LGBTQ issues, discussing intersectional feminism and combining positivity with strategic work planning. Always intrigued by the human story — she would love to hear from you and you can find her on almost every social platform!

[Image via iStock]

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