When work puts you back in the closet

Jennifer came out as bisexual when she was in high school.But after an interview for her first profes...

Posted: Aug 9, 2018 3:04 PM
Updated: Aug 9, 2018 3:04 PM

Jennifer came out as bisexual when she was in high school.

But after an interview for her first professional job out of college, she decided she wouldn't share her queer identity at work. She grew out her undercut, removed her nose ring and hid anything else she thought might make coworkers whisper.

On her first day, she noticed the conservative dress at her company, and later on, her supervisor even made a point to bring up Jennifer's clothing choices in their performance evaluations. She noticed men around the office making jokes about an LGBTQ dating app or awkwardly talking about gay family members.

"It's not like I'm trying to meet people at work, but there was a period of about a year where I was single and dating women, and it was weird to not be able to talk about it," she says.

Jennifer is still working in that first job — and still not out to her coworkers. When people ask her about her weekend plans, she offers vague answers: simply "going to New York" when she's attending an LGBTQ conference, or referring to a queer women's retreat as "adult summer camp."

Related: A new first for LGBTQ business leaders

Jennifer isn't alone in bringing only part of herself to the office. Nearly 50% of LGBTQ employees remain in the closet, according to a recent study from the Human Rights Campaign. Like Jennifer, many told HRC that hearing their coworkers make jokes or tone-deaf comments about the LGBTQ community contributes to that decision.

And many Millennial employees are coming out of the closet only to go back in when they enter the working world, according to HRC.

Even among such an "out" generation, stigma and stereotypes can still haunt new employees, says Beck Bailey, deputy director of the HRC's workplace equality program.

"There's a lot of pressure to perform," Bailey says. "There's this idea that if there's anything that could be stereotyped or used against you, even in the most unconscious bias kind of way, you're going to maybe want to take that off the table."

Related: Nearly half of LGBTQ Americans aren't out at work

This is particularly challenging for people managing multiple kinds of diversities, Bailey says. A black man may hide his queerness in part because he's already concerned about navigating racism in his office. Someone managing other "invisible" diversities, like disability or veteran status, will stay silent as colleagues discuss their personal lives.

"If you're a woman and you're dealing with gender bias, you might want to take the fact that you're a lesbian off the table, so you're not also dealing with bias around your sexuality," Bailey says. "And I think for all young people, their youth and their lack of professional experience is already on the table."

These same LGBTQ individuals may come out again later in their careers, after they feel they've achieved some sort of "insulation" that protects them from bias: accolades like a flashy promotion, a big raise or even just some respect amongst peers.

In the meantime, there are consequences for employers: employee engagement can suffer by up to 30% if LGBTQ individuals continue to feel unwelcome at work, HRC reports.

To help employees feel more comfortable, messaging the company's commitment to inclusion should start early, Bailey says. Employers interested in a diverse, engaged workforce should make sure their message of inclusion is communicated at every process in the organization, from employee recruitment to promotion.

"If I'm an LGBTQ person and I'm thinking about applying to your company, I'm probably going to your website, I'm reading things, I'm looking at the 'what it's like to join our team' part of the webpage," Bailey says. "We need to be messaging very, very early and very, very specifically about our commitment to inclusion."

Jennifer is hopeful that in her next job, things will be different. At a conference several years ago, she remembers seeing Chrysler representatives talk about their LGBTQ employee resource group.

"That was really cool and heartening to see, that there are professional places where you can be out," she says. "It's just not what I've experienced."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 148387

Reported Deaths: 3769
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto9874101
Hinds9821198
Harrison6982110
Jackson6218119
Rankin5417102
Lee498495
Madison4711106
Forrest375086
Jones352488
Lauderdale3412145
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Washington3153107
Lamar286349
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Lowndes232864
Neshoba2189118
Panola218849
Marshall211950
Leflore203490
Pontotoc199128
Monroe196077
Sunflower191055
Lincoln187865
Warren174157
Tate166951
Union165325
Pike160958
Copiah160440
Yazoo152939
Scott151829
Itawamba151134
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Pearl River149467
Alcorn148228
Simpson146353
Prentiss143730
Adams139250
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Leake133243
Holmes127861
Tippah123730
George123524
Covington120938
Winston120024
Hancock117639
Wayne116923
Marion114846
Attala111234
Tishomingo108742
Chickasaw106932
Newton104229
Tallahatchie96727
Clay89927
Clarke89153
Jasper81722
Walthall76028
Stone75214
Calhoun73713
Montgomery72825
Carroll71415
Lawrence70714
Yalobusha70527
Smith70316
Noxubee70017
Perry65826
Tunica60219
Greene59722
Claiborne57916
Jefferson Davis56017
Humphreys53119
Amite52714
Benton49017
Quitman4846
Webster42314
Kemper42118
Wilkinson38722
Jefferson34711
Franklin3345
Choctaw3157
Sharkey30817
Issaquena1144
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 241957

Reported Deaths: 3572
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31809500
Mobile19651361
Madison12964148
Tuscaloosa12946154
Montgomery12263236
Shelby1016177
Baldwin857698
Lee771866
Morgan648050
Calhoun6215119
Etowah618266
Marshall618255
Houston522438
DeKalb480436
Cullman433442
Limestone418645
St. Clair413655
Elmore403764
Lauderdale396754
Walker3620111
Talladega347954
Jackson311723
Colbert306042
Blount287940
Autauga270442
Franklin250233
Coffee242015
Dale231754
Dallas225232
Russell22123
Chilton220638
Covington218034
Escambia197931
Chambers176450
Tallapoosa175491
Pike158114
Clarke157619
Marion137136
Winston131123
Lawrence126336
Pickens121618
Geneva12108
Marengo120224
Barbour117010
Bibb117017
Butler115341
Randolph101921
Cherokee101024
Hale96031
Clay91024
Washington90719
Fayette89316
Henry8526
Lowndes79429
Monroe78311
Cleburne76914
Macon73022
Crenshaw70930
Bullock69419
Conecuh68314
Perry6836
Lamar6678
Wilcox63118
Sumter57522
Greene42318
Choctaw42113
Coosa3414
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