The Business of Being “Out” at Work

lgbt diversity inclusion being out at work

“How do we get our LGBT employees to come out at work?”

Believe it or not, I frequently hear some form of this question when I’m working with executives and HR leadership around strategies to create a more inclusive workplace for LGTBQ+ employees.

It’s a clumsy question – one that implies a need for further sensitivity training or cultural awareness – but it usually comes from a good place.

Our clients know the statistics:

  • 46% of LGBTQ+ employees are not out at work.
  • 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ employees have considered leaving a job because of an unwelcoming environment.
  • Disengaged employees cost employers approximately 34% of their salary in lost productivity annually.

These are legitimate business problems that have a real impact a company’s bottom line. Unfortunately, the barriers to coming out on the job are much broader and have consequences that extend far beyond the walls of work.

In the spirit of National Coming Out Day (October 11th) I wanted to share some perspectives on factors that affect an employee’s willingness to share that most vulnerable part of themselves at work.

  • It’s a personal choice. Some of us – LGBTQ+ and otherwise – are simply private people. Generational and cultural differences, even dispositions towards introversion or extroversion, affect a person’s need or desire to divulge different aspects of their personal lives at work. You don’t get to decide for someone else what is and isn’t safe or right for them.
  • Visibility matters. That’s the whole purpose of a pride parade! It’s far more meaningful to your employees, however, that you consider what visibility looks like within the walls of your company every day.
    • Do you have openly LGBTQ+ employees serving in positions of leadership?
    • Do you contribute and participate in the LGBTQ+ community?
    • Does your supplier diversity program include LGBT-owned businesses (LGBTBEs)?
  • Show up when we need you. True inclusion shows up in real time. It lives beyond your non-discrimination policy and diversity trainings. It means speaking out against discriminatory laws in the places where you conduct business. When companies stand with us publicly on matters that impact our lives outside of the office it creates a degree of engagement and trust that no internal policy or well-meaning internal newsletter ever could.

The real question our clients should be asking is “how do we create a community at work where it’s safe for all of our employees to show up vulnerably, authentically, and ready to share all the best parts of themselves in service to our shared vision?”

The answer is a blend of culturally-sensitive internal policy, evidence of investment in our communities, advocacy on our behalf in matters of public policy, and an ongoing commitment to evolve with us as our needs change. Employees who feel they can trust their company to do the right thing will be more engaged and productive.

They might not roll into the office on a pride parade float every day, but that’s their choice and that’s okay.


Lab Monkey Communications helps companies create and implement effective diversity and inclusion strategies by helping leaders prioritize programs, policies and best practices for engaging all employees in the company’s mission. Contact us to learn more.