Dear RAHMers, allies and readers,
in this edition of “INSIGHTS” I would like to focus on sharing personal information in different situations and the problem of being caught between the will of strong inter-personal connection and the risk of being vulnerable.
We all share information every day, with every talk we have, with every message we write, with every online shopping tour we do or just by using the internet for work and private. However, there is no way of not sharing personal information and maybe even data with others. We also share information of ourselves by our look, behaviour, and facial expressions- the difference is these leave more room for individual interpretation.
When I started being visible in social media, I was more than 30 years old. I always refused to use social media- as I thought, anybody who needs to contact me, and I am interested in has my contact information. I underestimated the power of networking, and the reach of shared information that matters to you. In my case the main topic was mainly DEI management, as I strongly believe in the power of creativity and individual skills and talents, that can only reach their full potential in an inclusive environment, provides psychological safety and the deep feeling of “I am welcome”. One important learning was, that it is necessary and important to connect to others engaged in Diversity Management, collaborate and share “best practices”. I widened my network, and I am now in contact with different DEI managers all over the world. This is very inspiring on one hand; on the other hand it also poses the risk of being visual.
My personal opinion is, you have to take some risks in life to make an effort- and every effort comes with a price. Being visible always has two sides of the coin- one is the positive one, of getting heard and seen, which feeds the intrinsic need of every person, to be of value and been appreciated for that. The other side is, not all answers and reactions you will get will be the ones you intended to receive. This can be quite hurtful, aggressive, and even threatening experiences. However, you never change anything in the world by being quiet and by being passive. No one ever told us that it is easy to speak up, to initiate change or to have a constant voice for topics that are close to our hearts. It is everyone´s own decision how much one wants to share, where to share it and who to address- but it is not completely under your control, especially not on the internet. This is the same for social media as well as for working life.
If you lead team members or you are part of a team, there are several occasions where you share personal information. The more you feel welcome and integrated in a team, the more you will feel comfortable to give away information about yourself. Most people have this feeling with their families and friends in their private environment. In business, leaders are always in conflict of connecting to the team and making oneself vulnerable by sharing private information that might be (mis)used against them sometime. In the case of LGBTIQ+ leaders it is also the question of sharing the information of being part of the queer community. A retired general manager of a large German company, said after completing his professional career: “I never shared the information of being gay- Why? Be always aware that this information can be used against you sometime!”
I think this is a devastating sentence- making clear that inclusion still has a long way to go. It also gives an explanation why only approximately a third of LGBTIQ+ leaders are OUT at the workplace. The questions here is: Is it better or worse to share this information? I think unfortunately there is no clear answer for that question, because it depends on the personal history, family environment, character, business area and sometimes even the position you are in. That’s the reality- as I said before, I prefer to be LOUD in case of diversity topics, but I can strongly understand why there can be obstacles in the way that prevents one from being that transparent. Even for trans people it can be much more struggling with a coming out, in private as well as in business, as this comes with a visible change which is much more revealing and which increases the pressure of “coming out” to people, who you might not want to share these deeply personal feelings with under other circumstances.
To make an impact here and to improve diversity & inclusion, is one of the main drivers of the RAHM company and the RAHM LGBTIQ+ leaders. There is no right or wrong for the personal decision of “Coming Out” at the working place. However, it should never be forced by others, take place by accident or on purpose by others or under any kind of pressure. In the following you will find some aspects of Pros and Cons in coming out at the working place:
Pros of coming out at Work
People perform better when they can be themselves! – It is not a secret that we only can be creative and reveal our full potential in an environment of psychological safety, where we feel welcome, appreciated, and valued. The important thing is that you are comfortable to be yourself at work, not only in your private environment. Your confidence and job performance could improve.
No hiding behind a mask to be accepted by others! – It is never comfortable to walk in anyone’s shadow, have a feeling of being forced to keep things secret or to find artificial answers to potential revealing questions with focus on your personal identity and private life. This requires and open, honest, and protective team culture, where discrimination of any kind is not accepted and result in consequences.
Be proud with yourself as a person! – This was the major topic in my last “INSIGHTS” article, as LGBTIQ+ community members and leaders tend to be overcritical to themselves and have a feeling of always being forced to invest more energy and efforts to reach the same goals in comparison to hetero-normative colleagues. This also leads to non-acceptance of positive feedback or praise as motivation factors and as a basis to feel proud of oneself and the goals achieved. In an inclusive working environment where this obvious “intrinsic” competition seems not to be present, people are enabled to accept positive feedback more easily and are encouraged to be visible with their contribution to achieve team goals.
You may meet other LGBTIQ+ community members who share your struggles! – If you no longer must tell fictive stories about what you did over the weekend and with whom you spent your holidays, it can be a relieve. You may become closer to co-workers now that you are more open about yourself. The stress of living a “double life” might go away and it also gives you the opportunity to collaborate or to be visibly engaged in ERGs at your working place. By connecting with other colleagues being OUT at the working place it can be easier to work on common goals for Diversity and Inclusion and get more attention if you are fine with that. Again, you should be sure that your working place is really offering a safe place for that or if that might be risky for you personally. Maybe you can start “silent” by connecting to visible community members and exchange experiences before you decide being active and visible yourself.
Cons of Coming Out at Work
The reactions and consequences of coming out at work may not be what you hoped for! – Let’s be honest, there is always a risk of being discriminated and humiliated by others, if you are off the norm. We as LGBTIQ+ community have developed and achieved a lot since Stonewall onwards, but we have not reached the goal of Inclusion in our society and business environment yet. We still have a long way to go to have equal opportunities for everybody regardless of any kind of dimension of diversity. You should always be aware of that- we are not there yet! For example- if you are looking at gender balance, we have decades of discussions and still we have not reached genderless career and income choices. In Europe we came back to have a fixed women quota for general manager/ executive leadership positions. The decades of self-regulations politics have not been convincing, as the need was not really seen a priority for further and sustainable success of the different businesses, resulting in the problems that we have today. We still have business areas where the number of women is neglectable, only a very limited number of female leaders in CEOs or other executive roles can be found and where a goal-oriented career development focused on women is still not implemented. This is only one example for the dimensions of diversity and in case of LGBTIQ+ we are years behind gender balance.
It may end rude jokes or comments about LGBTIQ+ community from co-workers! – As said, being visible comes with the price of being vulnerable. You always must be prepared for negative experiences at the working place. The question is always the same- what can I do in case this happens to me? Does my company offer support here? Are there consequences for people in case of confirmed discrimination? Are these cases followed up properly? Is there a personal risk for me if I address those violations? Be aware that there are a lot of “glossy” tools a company might have implemented, the question always is, are these measures really working, are they used and how is the process of follow-up issues. Does those leave employees with a good feeling of being a “whistle blower” in a positive sense or are you having the risk of being “black swan” by reporting violations against internal code of ethics? This is also an important question regarding the problem of “pink washing”- it is not the tool itself you make the difference here; it is the process behind it and how these deals are really used to improve DEI.
Some co-workers also may treat you differently now that they know you are part of the LGBTIQ+ community! – Just because you are out at work does not mean your co-workers will treat you in the same way as they do with straight co-workers. I have read a story from someone, who made the experience when he came out at the working place, managers changed chairs to get away from that person. Those “managers” (I must put this in quotation marks, because in my definition those people disqualified themselves as leaders) are posting in parallel Diversity content in social media and telling the world how diverse and inclusive their business areas are. The good thing is- we have a strong community, and we TALK- so these companies/ mangers should be aware, that this is seen. However, pink washing, especially in PRIDE months underlines that we must look behind the curtains and let data and most of all people speak, because they really can give us the real picture- not glossy webpages, rainbow logos/flags or high-end posts on social media.
We all have faced situations, where you might have questioned, that you shared this or that information. We all know how it hurts if people, who we have considered to be friends or dear colleagues, have used personal information to blame or hurt us. We all have been in this conflict of things that need to be said and the fear of possibly resulting consequences.
In the end there is no clear advice or a one-for-all-solution. It is up to everyone to be aware that nothing comes without any risk or price- you are the only one who can decide, what prize you want to accept and what risk to take. The most important thing for myself is- being authentic and respectful!
This is what I would also expect from others- we don’t have to agree, we do not need to have the same perceptions- but we must be respectful when we talk to each other, and while we discuss. With this sentence I will close this edition of “INSIGHTS”.
I share this article with you, because I think every step forward towards a better diverse, colourful, and inclusive world is worth going to be gone. I am a proud part of the RAHM community, and I will go on supporting DEI activities with all my heart and for now I have received a lot of authentic, honest, and respectful replies on that. Thank you all for that and for the strong community I am pleased to be part of!
See you next time…