Work is stressful.
At times, we all feel overwhelmed, be it because of a growing workload, a shrinking deadline or a hefty quota. What if, in addition to those traditional workplace worries, employees also felt that they couldn’t truly be themselves? What if they feared the judgement that would come with revealing their LGBTQ+ identity? Studies suggest this can decrease productivity and cause significant emotional trauma. For PRIDE month, I want to share a brief glimpse into how LGBTQ+ employees may feel at work, including the path I took to discovering PRIDE in myself.Growing up, LGBTQ+ issues rarely came up in my home because we simply weren’t exposed to it. Of the few occasions I can recall, it was typically about someone in our town coming out as gay. The local gossip ensued.
Did you hear So-and-So is gay? Can you believe it?
In those moments, I thought to myself, I don’t ever want to be someone’s gossip. I didn’t want my relationship choices to be someone else's story to spread. Every LGBTQ+ person has a different experience, but we all share the emotional burden that accompanies our decision-making in both social and professional settings.
At 34-years-old, I finally feel comfortable talking openly about my life while at work. It wasn’t always this way, and it still isn’t easy. In 2009, I graduated from college and was about to start my professional career. I was excited and looking forward to the future, but at the same time, I was grappling with extremely difficult and confusing feelings.
I was questioning my sexual orientation.
My first lesbian relationship occurred during my first year in the workforce. I was living in the town where I grew up, and the culture was stifling. Ours was a judgmental office, where everything from our strict dress code to our personal choices seemed to invite criticism from colleagues and superiors alike. Still, some coworkers would often chat about their personal lives, sharing about their spouses, kids, boyfriends, girlfriends, or weekend plans. All normal discussions that most of us take for granted. For me, though, the thought of participating in these conversations was paralyzing.
A part of me was not ready to come to terms with my new reality, and while I wanted some of my peers to know what I was going through, I feared their judgement, too. I was distant, distracted, depressed and even angry at times. Eventually, I developed stronger friendships and confided in a select few, but then only tentatively and behind closed doors. The small town environment, coupled with my own fear of judgement, prevented me from being my authentic self at work.
I needed a change.
I craved a progressive culture that would allow me to thrive professionally and to be open about who I am. In 2013, I moved to Boston and started down a path that not only led to a burgeoning career in sales, but more importantly, toward self-acceptance. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of working for three amazing companies who are dedicated to inclusion practices. My current employer, Crayon, Inc., exemplifies that open culture. From the start, I felt confident and comfortable talking about my wife. This is due, in part, to where I am in my own personal journey, but also to the open dialogue and the comfort I feel in my workplace every day. Crayon is a place where everyone, from the top down, is committed to being part of positive conversations that promote diversity and inclusion, and it has absolutely fostered my own PRIDE in both this company and in myself.
It’s clear that diversity and inclusion are at the core of who the company is and Crayon’s dedication to these principles is unwavering. The company recently furthered its commitment by partnering with Gaingels, the world's largest investor network focused on diversity in venture capital, making me that much prouder to call myself a Crayonner.
Everyday, I feel like we are working together to create a culture where LGBTQ+ individuals don’t have to fear judgement or becoming part of someone’s dinnertime gossip. The part of me that wondered whether I could ever speak openly and honestly is gone; and my own confidence can only be a positive for the company, my colleagues and the environment we work hard to create each day.
My wife recently shared this sentiment with me, which I thought perfectly summed up my place in both this company and in society itself:
“I am not proud because I am gay. I am proud because I am not afraid to be gay anymore.”
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