Written By: Louisa Symington-Mills 15/9/15
Louisa Symington-Mills offers advice to a reader worried about introducing her girlfriend to work colleagues.
My boss is organising a celebratory dinner in honour of a big project we’ve recently completed, and has decided that the event should include ‘other halves’ too. That’s all very well – except I’m gay, and I haven’t come out at work. I’m fairly new here and preferred to keep it quiet. My boss expects everyone to attend and while I don’t want to lie and deny having a partner (I’ve been with my girlfriend for six months), I don’t want to attract attention to my personal life yet. Should I come clean?
A matter of trust
Only you can decide whether or not to reveal your sexuality at work; as you say, it’s your personal life, and you have every right to keep it that way if you wish.
When joining a new firm it’s natural for anyone – regardless of their gender or sexual orientation – to want to keep key personal details to themselves while they familiarise themselves with new colleagues, a new workplace culture, and focus on getting to know a new role.
You’re certainly not alone in keeping quiet at work about being gay. A report, ‘LGBT Diversity: Show Me The Business Case’, published earlier this year showed that 17 per cent of LGBT employees in the UK have not disclosed their sexuality to anyone at work, with a further 21 per cent out to a few trusted people only.
A watershed moment?
However, maintaining a clear divide between work and home is also likely to be incredibly challenging, tiring and stressful and – on occasions, as you’ve just encountered – the lines may necessarily blur, making it much harder to keep your personal life shut away.
This celebratory dinner may prove to be your watershed moment. But whether you choose to tell your colleagues now will depend in part on why you’ve chosen to keep your sexuality quiet up until this point. If you’re concerned about your possible treatment at work, please remember the Equality Act 2010 made it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The act applies to all aspects of employment, including training, recruitment, promotion and dismissal. But there may equally be other factors that have influenced your stance and which I imagine you’ve spent much time considering since you joined your new employer:
• How confident and comfortable you feel personally in your sexuality/identity, and in discussing LGBT issues
• Your awareness of your firm’s approach to diversity and cultural acceptance of LGBT people
• Your trust in your colleagues and faith that, if you tell certain people who you work closely with, that information would be held in confidence if necessary
• Your judgement as to whether being out at work would create any personal risks to you in terms of harassment or bullying.
Share what you’re comfortable with
If you decide you’d like to use this celebratory dinner as an opportunity to come out to either selected colleagues or all, then start slowly by finding an ally you can open up to. Remember, although Apple’s CEO Tim Cook came out at work through an incredibly public blog, taking a quieter approach doesn’t mean you’re any less brave.
Begin by sharing whatever information you’re comfortable with, with a colleague you know you can trust and who is LGBT-supportive. Your confidence will increase and you’ll gain strength to open up to others.
And of course, there’s your boss. You could, of course, not say anything (perhaps he doesn’t fall into your category of someone trusted) and surprise him by showing up at the dinner with your girlfriend, but I wouldn’t favour such an abrupt approach; a matter-of-fact word away from the desk would be a better way forward.
Don’t feel pressured
There are lots of support mechanisms providing useful information and resources that may be helpful to you as you decide if, how and when to come out at work.
Start close to home: talk to your girlfriend and take time to find out more about your firm’s approach to LGBT and your rights as an employee. Your HR department should be help to offer help and support.
If your employer doesn’t have an LGBT network already, consider starting one – they can be a great way to encourage employees to share information and ensure diversity remains at the forefront of management thinking.
Make use of Stonewall, which has significant online resources and also runs local support groups, while the LGBT Foundation offers a helpline and email advice.
And finally, don’t be pressured into a decision by this particular event. Focus on choosing the route that will make you most comfortable and allow you to perform your job as well as you can.
Louisa Symington-Mills works in private equity as a COO and is founder and CEO of Citymothers and Cityfathers, networks of more than 6,000 parents in City careers. She is The Telegraph’s careers agony aunt.
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Source: The Telegraph