Coming out is rarely an easy process, and sadly, workplace discrimination—despite the legal protections LGBT workers possess—still exists. However, there are ways to approach the subject of sexual orientation in the workplace—and benefits, too.
Pride At Work Canada, a not-for-profit dedicated to “putting the case of LBGT diversity and inclusion on the mainstream business agenda,” is an organization promoting inclusive values in the workforce. To wit, they’ve partnered with BMO Financial Group, KPMG, Scotiabank Group and many, many more based on a simple—if blatantly obvious—concept: That employees perform better when they’re allowed to be themselves. Anyone care to disagree?
Jobpostings spoke to Pride at Work’s executive director, Brent Chamberlain, about navigating the coming-out process while at work. Read on.
Hi, Brent. What advice would you give to LBGT students who are entering the workforce? Is there any way to properly address—or not address—your sexuality in the workplace?
That’s a question I think a lot of students will consider as they move from an academic institution into a more formal workplace. I’d like to focus on is this concept of authenticity, and the fact that a lot of employers’ number one concerns is talent. [Employers] want people who are very talented, who come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, but also who can bring their whole selves to work.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily apply to every employer across Canada. But Private Work Canada, the organization we’re working with, and many of Canada’s leading organizations across the public, private and non-profit sectors are looking for this truly authentic workplace where everyone is bringing unique experiences.
How transparent should LGBT candidates be? Should the subject of sexuality be addressed during a job interview?
The chances that an employer will ever ask if an employee is gay or straight [are low] — it’s not something that would happen very often. In fact, it’s a very leading type of question. So it’s really up to the individual if want to share that. But I would encourage a student who has had an experience volunteering for a local or campus LGBT group to put that on their resume. It’s a great example of how they’ve gotten involved in a community organization, and it broadens their extra-curricular activities. Now, if that was on a resume, it would give the employer a chance to bring up the question up: “What they did for that?”
Again, I would underscore the concept of authenticity and talking about multiple experiences and what that brings to the job. It’s not just about types of courses that students have taken; in this really tough economic environment, there do have to be certain things which differentiate one person from another, and I think that diversity and authenticity are two of those things. So, I guess those are the reasons you would want to bring [sexual orientation] up—in terms of talking about an interview.
Are there situations where you’d want to avoid bringing up your sexuality?
The only question I would pose to a student who’s considering not bringing it up is: do you really want to work for an employer who won’t hire you simply because you’re gay? Now, just as a disclaimer, that’s illegal. We have protection at the federal level which says that an employer cannot hire someone simply because they’re gay or straight or whatever. [Ed: These protections can be found within the Canadian Human Rights Act, located here.]
But we all know that there are ways of getting around legislation. And as a student, you have to think about what that looks like—being in a job where you’re working and spending the majority of your life in an environment that isn’t conducive to being open about your sexual orientation. It means you’re going to be hiding everything you do—if you have a partner, or what you did the weekend, if you volunteer in the LGBT community. And certainly that has a huge detrimental effect on one’s productivity, eventually it turns into a detrimental effect on career progression, relationship with colleagues, etc. So, I think it has to be part and parcel of that decision. It’s not as easy as making the choice then and there, but I would argue that it does make sense for students who are LGBT-identified to look for employers who show those positive signs around being LGBT inclusive or simply “diversity friendly.” It doesn’t have to be specific around sexual orientation.
Now, if we’ve gotten past the interview—and were hired—does it get easier to bring up the subject of sexual orientation?
It’s absolutely based on personal choice in terms of how quickly or if at all someone will come out as being LGBT-identified. The influencing factor is at the organization level, so when someone starts, do they get information around the diversity policies or practises of the organization? Or is that something that’s not mentioned?
And on the specific team level, what’s the perception immediately of the people who are working on the team, of the director, the manager, the coworkers? Do they seem to be diversity minded, do they seem to be friendly around a variety of different life experiences? Or is it, “You’ve got to fit the mould, and if you don’t fit the mould you’re not going to fit in here?”
I think it’s up to the individual to test the waters in their new role to see what that transition is going to look like. Is it going to be easy for them to come out on day one? Or is that something they want to ease into, and perhaps find people they can consider allies within the organization? The organizations that Private Work Canada is working with will have things like employee resource groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-identified staff members where—without having to come out to their team—someone can go find information about what the organization is doing, can perhaps get involved with that group, and see how to come out more broadly within the organization.
So, there’s lots of tools that these inclusive organizations will offer to new hires to make that process a little bit easier, which is why I always recommend doing some research. If it does come down to two organizations, one who seems very inclusive and one perhaps not, [you have to ask], will the experience and the career progression process be so easy? That’s something else that should be part of the decision making process.
Thank you for your time, Brent!
For more information on Brent Chamberlain or Pride At Work, please visit their website.