We recently launched an LGBT Resource Group at my company and I have been asked to be the groups executive sponsor. As part of launching this group we are holding Lunch & Learn meeting around the company at different company locations. The attendance has been generally small but the discussion lively.
First, a funny note about these meetings: As I was setting up for yesterday’s meeting two young women poked their head in the room and asked, ‘What is this meeting?’ I told them it was for the LGBT Resource Group. “LGBT?” one of the women questioned. “It is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexua…..” I started to say and she quickly shook her head, said “no, no, no…” and then fled down the hall. I guess she was at the wrong meeting.
Finally a few women did come in for the meeting. They were three straight women and all three women work in my organization, but do not directly report to me. One spoke about her gay friends and her belief in equality, but challenged the need for a special group for LGBT. I found myself in the position of talking, with a surprising ease, of why this kind of group was important.
While our company has updated the corporate policies over the years so they are protective of diversity, it has generally been a culture of, ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell.’ We are not a monolithic culture, but made up of many micro-cultures, depending on a person’s manager or which division they work in. Some people do not feel comfortable coming out at work while others do so with ease.
What has surprised me and been a source of empowerment has been telling my personal story with such easiness and pleasure in a work setting and feeling that it is the most natural thing. It has been a very long journey from months of internal deliberation and planning about how I would come out at work, fighting my fears, and thinking through every word, to today speaking about my decision to come out in a very public way.
While I don’t want to be the gay poster boy at work, I am also enjoying the role of publicly talking about LGBT at my company and my own journey. It is also a good training ground for more public speaking I hope to do in the future. I also see that it is tremendously empowering for LGBT people in the company who feel strengthened and proud so see someone in the corporate leadership stand up and acknowledge that they are gay. I find myself becoming a role model and at the same time feel I am still in learning mode, but I think doing both and acknowledging both is fine.
So, I guess I am really getting my gay together and taking it on the road around our company, at all major offices, to talk about the LGBT Resource Group, but as part of that story talking about my own journey and the integrating power of coming out at work.