Today I stood in front of about 175 people in a leadership meeting for the division I lead at my company and came out. While I didn’t read from the document below, I did write down what I wanted to say in advance and used it to think through my message. I wanted to be clear and strong in what I said.
The entire leadership meeting was about 2 1/2 hours with lots of different topics. The last major topic was a set of slides about the new resource groups my company is forming, beginning with LGBT and veterans.
After taking the group through an introduction of what resource groups are all about, I came out to the attendees. (For more information about resource groups click here.) What I said was very close to my prepared comments below. I wanted my words to have as much meaning as possible, and tie my coming out to their role as leaders in the organization. It was very well received and The group applauded at multiple points in my comments. A number of people came up to me after the meeting to say how important what I said was. Here’s what I said to the group:
Coming Out to the Division Leadership
As we talk about the resource groups and diversity in our company, I’d like to pause for a minute and talk to you more personally about my own life and why the resource groups are important to me. I would like to share some things about my own life that are rather personal, but in doing so I’m hoping that it will make you and me and our division stronger. So here we go.
About three and half years ago I began to come out as gay to my family and friends. While it was a very difficult time in my personal life, more than I could have hoped for, I received tremendous support and respect from my family and friends, including my son who was about 15 at the time.
Then last year I began to think more about what it meant to come out at work. Given my senior role at the company, I wanted to be thoughtful and respectful about coming out. But then life has funny ways of telling you it’s time to move along, and what was a seemly minor event pushed me to decide that I really needed to come out at work.
Late last year I had the opportunity, through the company, to attend the annual Baltimore Symphony black-tie fundraiser, and I really want to go because the musical group Pink Martini was performing. I asked the company for one ticket. A few weeks later I received an envelope with two tickets. And I thought, ‘crap, what do I do now?’ I didn’t feel I could attend the event and bring a date because I wasn’t out at work. In the end I didn’t go and returned the tickets. This was a pivotal moment for me and the catalyst for deciding I really needed to come out at work if I was going to have the integrated life I wanted.
In March of this year, after giving the topic a lot of thought, I started coming out to my peers, the associates who report to me, and of course I spoke to my boss. I was really overwhelmed by the universally positive support I received. It was a tremendously empowering experience. And a few weeks after starting to come out I attended two different external events through the company with other company associates, and with a date. It felt completely natural and a lot of fun.
In the process of coming out I learned about the resource groups that the company was looking to start. Our SVP of HR, asked me if I would be the executive sponsor for the LGBT resource group and I was really excited to be a part of this program.
Coming out at work has been a powerful and integrating experience for me. It is really for the first time in my professional life that I feel that I am bringing my whole self to work. So as part of taking on this new leadership role with the resource group, I thought it was important to talk honestly to our division leadership about my life. I wanted you to hear this news from me and not through the grapevine.
Now I recognize that this topic may make some people uncomfortable, but that’s why it’s important that we have this discussion. The people sitting in this room are the leadership in the division. You set the tone for the organization! Each of you, in both subtle and not so subtle ways, send messages to your teams and coworkers on how welcoming you are of people who are different in some way or another.
Are you a leader that welcomes diversity and difference or someone that likes to keep those that are different out of your group? We have the opportunity to make the company a more welcoming and accepting organization, which is why I wanted to be honest with you about my own life.
Study after study has shown that people do their best work when they are able to bring their whole self to work. I know that has been true for me.
So what’s next? We continue the hard work we do every day in our division and I continue to look for your support in growing, evolving and leading the division. Thank you for letting me share this with you today.