Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Learning at work: my LGBT lesson

By Kimberly Lord - 05.29.2012

When we started the development of our new Corporate Tribalism: LGBT Culture module I knew I would learn a lot about others– what I didn’t know was how much I would learn about myself.  As with all of the KMA programs, the content is driven by insiders and for this particular module I worked with several subject matter experts to drive all four elements of the program.

Beyond the pile of LGBT books on my bedside table, I was having great conversations with individuals who brought their unique perspectives about being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender to life.  Despite the fact that I have close friends and relatives, who are LGBT, I found several revelations in these conversations about workplace issues and subtle discriminations that had rarely been brought up by my friends and relatives during our “normal” conversations.

This is the problem.  Until I was working on the program, I rarely – if ever – inquired about my LGBT friends’ work life.  Could I have been subconsciously participating in my own unique brand of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?”

With the focus and purpose of finding authentic stories and issues to highlight in our new program – I was engaging in all kinds of new conversations about the challenges LGBT employees face at work.  These successful and driven professionals – when asked – had a host of enlightening stories to share about their own personal challenges and tactics for overcoming the unspoken rules of engagement in the workplace.

One of the most revealing and heart-wrenching conversations stemming from this project was with my friend who moved to New York City eight years ago to transition.  I initiated the conversation to discuss her experience practicing law and the challenges she faced in courtrooms across the country.  But after a half an hour of workplace talk, our conversation turned to our social lives, our past history and our network of friends in Chicago.  This is where I learned how little I had allowed myself to recognize about her life, pain and the opportunities I could have taken to support her.

Being an ally is one of the most effective ways you can support your friends and colleagues – and it is the most challenging.  Until recently I felt my simple acceptance and love was sufficient.  Working as the channel to bring authentic stories and issues to light in our program forced me to rethink my role as an advocate for the people in my life.

Being an advocate starts with being authentic – authentic about my feelings and the feelings of others.  It’s the human angle that I think comes through in our program – real people and real stories.  Workplaces and communities aren’t suddenly going to change because of a new policy.  Change starts when you recognize, identify and connect with the struggle of another person – whether it’s the person at the next desk or next door.


5 Responses so far

I’m wondering as a community do LGBT people give as much weight to identifying themselves with their jobs as their straight coworkers do. There probably is a wide array of opinion on this issue. I am of the belief that a lot of it has to do with generational differences and other cultural influencers. For some LGBT people, a workplace is simply a place to pay the bills and keep the electricity on. For others there are opportunities and unlimited career growth… if you can embrace/pass as being mainstream or you bring some technical expertise that others cannot match. This is something that is not particular to the LGBT community but can also be found in other minority communities as well. Just think about how more male appearing some women become as they move up the corporate ladder… less make up, plain blue suits and shorter hair.

This is even more of an issue for members of the LGBT community who are ethnic minorities. Having to work against ethnic stereotypes, balancing being out in the workplace (or not) and the stress of developing a successful career can sometimes push people to seek a sense of purpose and fulfillment outside of the workplace. These pressures do not come solely from our straight coworkers but surprisingly from other members of the LGBT community as well.

.I have to agree with how hard it is. In some lines of work it was forbidden to be diferent. Yet there were many LGBT’s. The best way to support them was to keep thier secret. That was unfortunate but now it’s changing. Let’s hope the change is for the better.

Wayne, thank you for your comment. For those who are LGBT and working in an environment where being out is not an option, there is probably both a strong underground network of people in the community and a collective of fear at the same time. Just imagine the amount of energy people put into passing in the workplace that could instead be directed to their work.

I admire people who have laid the ground work for making it safe to be out in the workplace and those brave enough to follow in their footsteps.

Authenticity and support are vital elements of any relationship be it personal or professional. This is nothing new. Yet the idea that it (authenticity and support) will somehow improve the climate of the workplace because you openly. Purposefully. Reveal your sexual preferance is ridiculous. While we have freedom of speech and the freedom to disclose what we will. We must also be mindful that those same revealations may or maynot have a favorable outcome. Trust support and authenticity should be reserved for genuine relationships rather than the superficial ones with a variety of people. I think thats part of the problem with the backlash within the workplace. Our society has this need (with the growth of social media ie facebook google ops
etc ) to reveal all while simultaneously demanding acceptance which is
not only self gratifying but arrogant.

I feel that in the work place the LGBT community should be able to be themselves freely, and not have to worry about judgement. Which will most likely never happen, because people are scared to deal with things that are different or that they feel is personally or ethically wrong. With don’t ask don’t tell, i feel that allows the employer to cover it up if they do know so that they might have have to address that future problems that may occur with other employees. My feelings are that we should all be opened minded and except people for who and what they are.

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