As a gay man that had just joined the professional workforce, those five words were terrifying two years ago. Suddenly, I was back in the closet after being out since the age of 14. How had I ended up in there again?
A recent study revealed that 43% of gay men have experienced homophobia at work and a study by the Williams Institute in the US shows that gay men earn 10% to 32% less than their heterosexual counterparts. It is no wonder then that many LGBT graduates decide to go back into the closet. A Human Rights Campaign study found that 62% of Generation Y LGTB graduates who are out at university, go back in the closet when they start their first job. This contrasts with the statistic that employees are up to 32% more productive when they feel comfortable being out and bringing their full selves to work. Companies need to continue making changes to ensure their entire workforces feel comfortable bringing their true selves to work. Diversity and inclusion must be a core component of their strategy.
I am writing this blog to reflect on what has allowed me to come out to my colleagues at Baringa and on what can be a great cause of anxiety for young people joining the workforce, and it is all linked back to one word: visibility. It wasn't until I overheard a conversation between two colleagues wanting to start an LGBT network that I grew confident enough to come out, even if just to a small group of LGBT individuals. However, for a long time I still felt uneasy. In an industry like consulting where one is moving from client to client and continuously changing teams and line managers, constantly repeating the coming out process can be an additional cause of anxiety. Stress can rapidly build up and have a considerable impact on performance.
The second thing that encouraged me to come out was receiving support from the senior leadership. Examples of this were a straight male partner talking openly and positively about his gay friends; or our managing partner directly emailing the entire organisation, congratulating the LGBT network on our first newsletter. It was these (and other) small signs of support that allowed me to be comfortable being out to a wider audience, and therefore being authentic.
And thirdly, a supportive environment. We have now embarked on a full review of our policies to ensure they are gender-neutral and inclusive of different sexual orientations and gender identities. This has also lead to explicitly including same-sex couples in our maternity/paternity leave and adoption policies.
A year later, and we have built a strong LGBT network, ‘Embrace’, and now have eight core team members and more than 50 straight allies dedicated to a cause which will see Baringa become a truly fully-inclusive and diverse organisation. We became members of Stonewall and participated in the Workplace Equality Index which has provided us with a benchmark to make changes that will continue to improve our company. And, in the spirit of visibility, we will be marching for the first time in this year's Pride parade in London. We hope to see you there!