Updated: Dec 3, 2020
I believe it’s a universal truth that finding your social footing at a new job can be scary. It takes time to adjust to company culture and get to know your new coworkers. You’re hoping that your teammates like you. You’re trying to make a good first impression. You want to keep this new job. You want to get along well with the people you’ll be spending so much time with. Today's reality of remote work comes with its own challenges, including truly connecting with your team.
For LGBTQIA+ professionals (like me), there are even more concerns about fitting in at work. These are the questions that I've asked myself any time I've started a new job:
Will I have to keep my gender or sexual identity a secret?
Will I lose my job if my employer finds out that I’m trans?
Will I have to go by my deadname at work?
What do I do if my coworkers misgender me?
Is it safe to bring my same-gender partner to the office holiday party?
Will I be able to get raises or promotions if I’m open about who I am?
Does my company do any kind of diversity and inclusion training for its employees?
If I'm out at work, will I be expected to educate everyone or speak on behalf of the whole community?
Does my company financially support organizations who work to have my rights taken away?
Will it make things worse to me if I talk to HR when these things happen?
Should I dress more like what’s expected of my assigned gender to fit in and be safe?
How will all of this affect my mental health?
I’m a nonbinary professional who also presents very queer - I’m talking buzzed head, septum ring, and an affinity for flannels. I’ve been the only person in the office who wasn’t cisgender and heterosexual. I’ve worn dresses and skirts to work because I didn’t want to lose my job by “looking too queer”. I’ve been told that politely asking my manager to use my correct pronouns was disrespecting him. I’ve been asked invasive questions about my sexuality by a past boss. I’ve been repeatedly called my deadname at work despite introducing myself as my chosen name. I once had an employer who would purposely misgender me when I made a mistake or asked questions.
As a result, I lost trust in these employers and teammates. My mental health and self-confidence took a nosedive. My creative energy and motivation depleted. My performance slipped. If constant fear of the next homophobic or transphobic incident was the reality of my professional life, how was I to constantly utilize the full extent of my skillset? Would staying quiet and sacrificing my work-life balance to prove my professional worth make them treat me better? And even if it would, why should I have to be superhuman to get the same basic respect as the rest of my coworkers?
An important side note:
If you call the CEO Robert despite knowing that he only wants to be called Bob and hates being called Robert, your behavior is rude and disrespectful. If Bob was an intern instead of the CEO, your behavior would still be rude and disrespectful. The same concept should apply to trans and gender nonconforming people, no matter their job title.
Now let's imagine the much brighter flip side:
What is it like when LGBTQIA+ employees are not only accepted at work, but affirmed?
What is it like when you are actively encouraged to bring your full self to work?
What is it like when you and your skillset are truly valued, instead of being overlooked because of your identity?
What is it like when you don’t have to stifle a core part of who you are just to pay your bills?
I am incredibly lucky and thankful to be able to answer these questions from experience too, especially because this has been my reality.
It is like night and day, and I have never been so happy to be in the sun.
You may know me for my digital art or tarot & astrology work, but the majority of my experience comes from the digital marketing world. I recently did contract marketing work for a full-stack agency located over 1,000 miles away. The in-house team was located in Florida while I worked remotely from St. Louis, so I never met the team in person. And still, I had never felt so connected to or valued by the people I was working with before.
From Day 1, it was clear to me that they valued my skills and my professional opinions. They asked me for my recommendations for their website, email marketing, and social media. They shared ideas with me about ways I could evolve and grow professionally. They gave me opportunities to do what I’m good at and passionate about.
They created a work environment where queerness and transness were not only accepted, but also celebrated. I was not only safe to, but also encouraged to bring my full self to working with them. I felt 100% comfortable telling them I’d like to be called Macklan or Mack for short, and they changed my company email to match my chosen name before I could even ask. They used my correct pronouns. They invited my partner to our Zoom happy hour so they could meet them, too, and they even tuned into our wedding's livestream so they could celebrate with us from afar.
Two amazing things resulted from this:
I was excited to log in at 7am despite not at all being a morning person. I'm always motivated to be constantly growing, learning, and improving, but having external affirmation in addition to my own intrinsic motivation was empowering. Because they valued me as a professional and as a person, I was all the more excited to do my best work for them.
I felt personal pride in and connection to my work. I didn’t have to hide parts of myself in fear of risking my professional relationships anymore. Being able to bring my full self to work translated to a sense of belonging, even stronger motivation to perform my best, and the fact that I was inspired to write this lengthy blog post.
Some might say that it’s not that deep, that I shouldn’t get so emotional over work, that it’s just a job and we don’t have to love everyone we work with.
This may be true, but why shouldn't we strive to work at jobs that we love with people who accept and encourage us? Full-time employees spend 40 hours a week at work, and the time we have on earth is limited. I've spent too much time being miserable for the sake of financial survival.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to interpersonal relationships. Even when we’re using our customer service voices or sitting in meetings as our professional personas, we are still human beings. Even if we don’t express our emotions or personal lives at work, that does not mean that they don't exist.
Connecting to our job and to our coworkers not just as professionals, but also as people opens up a world of opportunity for all of us. Things like increased motivation, better performance, a sense of belonging and loyalty, and better mental health are just as good for employers as they are for employees. If you want to bring capitalism into it, engaged and motivated employees means less turnover, more productive working hours, and a stronger business.
Here is my advice to anyone in a place of leadership:
Cultivate a workplace that empowers LGBTQIA+ employees to be their full selves at work. Simple things go a long way. Use gender neutral language like partner or spouse instead of boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife. Make a point of referring to employees with their correct pronouns and chosen name, both verbally and in emails. This can also look like having a space for pronouns and chosen names in onboarding paperwork, putting pronouns in everyone's email signatures, implementing diversity & inclusion training, or starting affinity groups.
Let your employees know that they and their skills are valued. Compensation is just one piece of the puzzle. Ask for your employees' input and ideas, no matter their job title. Regularly check in to learn about their goals, progress, and training needs. Assign projects that align with their strengths and help them work towards their goals.
Keep your employees' futures at the company at the front of your mind and theirs. Communicate regularly about your employees' long term goals and what their future at the company could look like. Regularly talk about how they can get there, and how you can support them. Provide continuous training and learning resources to encourage ongoing professional growth.
The short version: Treat your employees the way this company treated me. Someday you just might find a someone bragging online about how much they loved working with you, too.