OPINION: The power of coming out at work

Tuesday, 22 August 2023 08:00 GMT

A Google employee works on a laptop in front of a mural of the New York City skyline, at the New York City company office March 10, 2008. REUTERS/Erin Siegal

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Coming out at work is both powerful and necessary but it’s neither easy, nor, for many, possible

Maeve DuVally is an LGBTQ+ advocate; communications and diversity and inclusion consultant; and author of MAEVE RISING: Coming Out Trans in Corporate America

Walking into work on the morning of May 29, 2018, as Maeve DuVally for the first time was one of the most exciting days of my life. I was literally trembling from a combination of trepidation and exhilaration.

I had realized I was transgender about seven months earlier and had come out in my social life almost immediately. However, the fear of not being accepted at a place that played such a prominent role in defining my identity – and one where I spent most of my waking hours – kept me in the closet for a while longer. That is, until I could stand it no more.

I have come to realize that coming out trans in the workplace can have an immense impact on an individual’s life and that such an action can reverberate beyond.

For much of my career at Goldman Sachs, I worked 50-60 hours per week, and spent my mornings and evenings before and after work with my eyes pasted to my work emails. For those seven months, I Iived a double life that was confusing and eventually demoralizing. Over time, this posturing exacted a brutal toll on me because I could not share anything about one of the most important developments of my life with co-workers I interacted with more than my family or friends.

Once I did come out, there was not only a tremendous psychological charge for me but also an equally large benefit at work as well because I was a better worker—friendlier, more collegial and happier.

Transphobia, both mild and blatant, makes the job market difficult for transgender people and even if we gain employment, we are still at a disadvantage. According to a McKinsey report from 2021, the unemployment rate for cisgender (non-transgender) adults is half that for trans people and cisgender adults make about a third more for the same work.

With statistics like these, it’s not hard to understand why trans job seekers become easily discouraged. But, for those of us who are willing and able to be visible in the workplace (and not everybody wants to or can be), we show other trans people that there is a path to meaningful out trans employment. To some, me included, it might still seem narrow, but it’s expanding, albeit glacially.

I am very privileged to be white, live in tolerant New York City and to have been employed by Goldman Sachs when I came out. Partly for those reasons, I consider it a personal responsibility to speak to other companies and groups about my experience.

The more out trans people talk about their successful careers, the more it normalizes the experience. One day it’s my hope we won’t have to do any of this, and we’ll be viewed as just employees, not trans employees. We are not there yet.

The third benefit of coming out in the workplace is it draws attention to corporations’ important societal roles in fostering trans acceptance. This is especially crucial now given the political attacks on trans people by lawmakers in many states around the country.

Companies – especially large corporations – are part of the establishment and by accommodating their trans employees they send a potent message to society and the purveyors of transphobic hate.

Some companies like Disney have publicly stood up to LGBTQ+ hate. Do I wish other companies would step up and publicly condemn discriminatory state laws, physical attacks on trans people and societal drift toward transphobia? Absolutely.

By coming out in our companies, we as individuals show courage and leadership, which can inspire our employers to more vigorously back us. Most of the time, this isn’t going to show up as public statements calling out transphobic behavior. Rather, leaders can and should use opportunities during Pride Week or the transgender recognition days to show they champion us both inside and outside their organizations. In other words, corporate leaders showing the world they care about us.

By coming out at work when we are ready, we improve our mental health, show other trans people there is a way forward and nudge our employers toward trans acceptance and advocacy. Now, that’s powerful.

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