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Weekend Workout

The challenges of coming out at work Add to ...

It was 40 years this summer that Canada decriminalized homosexuality. Yet a study this month shows many gay employees still fear discrimination in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. As June marks Pride Month, the debate lingers about whether to come out at work.

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DEFINITIONS

Coming out: The process by which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to share that with others. --HRC.org

LGBT: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender

TWO SIDES

OUT

  • Name: Stephanie Nickerson
  • Job title: Assistant director, global industry
  • Employer: Ernst & Young LLP, Toronto
  • Decision to come out: “I didn't want to hide who I was. So two years ago, I came out to one person at a time, where appropriate and if it fit in with the natural flow of conversation.”
  • Hardest part: “When I was thinking of coming out, there were no visible female LGBT role models, so it's a pretty big leap of faith to be the first person to step on out. It's always at the back of your mind that there's a double glass ceiling – you're already a woman but if you layer being an LGBT woman, what does that do in terms of career prospects? And personally, there's the consideration: Am I going to be accepted or rejected?”
  • Result: “For my colleagues, it was a non-issue. Otherwise, it's made me much more involved and engaged at work. I don't hide any more. I'm more forthright in what I say. I bring all of me to work. And I'm probably more confident because I'm being more true to myself.”

CLOSETED

  • Name: Withheld
  • Job title: Senior director
  • Employer: Large financial services firm, Toronto
  • Decision to not come out: “People would just pass judgment on it. In many ways, that sort of judgment has nothing to do with one's performance. It would be a risk, in terms of career advancement and continuing acceptance in the workplace.”
  • Hardest part: “The social part. It does limit how much I share about my personal life. When office parties are held and staff are encouraged to bring significant others, it places people that have a different lifestyle in an awkward situation. It's not always the most comfortable thing to do. I go alone.”
  • Result: “It adds an extra layer of stress and a feeling of not being whole. In today's world, where work is no longer contained to 9-to-5, especially if you're at management level where you have Blackberries and people access you after hours, there's a blending between work and personal life. For people who are gay in the workplace, it's even more uncomfortable, because your work encroaches on your personal time. I, for sure, don't bring all of myself to work.”

WHAT WORKERS SAY

“Before coming out, I was much more reserved. It was all about business. But I'm really not that type of person, I'm very social and like to poke fun at myself. I have way more confidence now. [Coming out]makes you fully realize who you are, so you can put all your energy into doing a great job.”

--Esther Dryburgh, partner, financial services sector, IBM Canada Ltd .

“You don't just come out once. You're constantly outing yourself, all the time. And you never know how someone's going to react. When I'm put into certain situations, I sometimes feel uncomfortable and hesitant, and then it always bothers me afterwards – I think, ‘Why was I worried what this person might think?'”

--Darrell Schuurman, manager of market development for VIA Rail

KEY BARRIERS

  • Lack of knowledge/awareness about LGBT issues
  • Exclusion from important connection
  • Discriminatory behaviour

Source:Catalyst LGBT report, May, 2009



CREATING AN LGBT-FRIENDLY WORKPLACE

Develop and enforce policies : An anti-discrimination framework can help guide employees and managers.

Mentors: Encourage opportunities to connect LGBT employees with mentors to build networks and support career advancement. Also encourage LGBT employees to mentor others.

Give back: Let LGBT staff give back to their communities; this increases employee engagement and also helps to develop potential new customer and business contacts.

Include all: Use inclusive language in all corporate communications.

Train: Diversity training can help combat stereotypes and build awareness.

Start groups: Encourage staff to start LGBT networks to support each other and share experiences.

Set the tone: Managers and senior leaders should lead by example, enforcing zero-tolerance policies and ensuring that LGBT employees receive benefit of organizational programs and policies.

Sources: Catalyst study of inclusive workplaces; HRC.org

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 12%: Portion of lesbians in Canada who say they are completely in the closet at work.
  • 5%: Portion of gay men in Canada who say they are completely in the closet at work.
  • 50% : Portion of co-workers, on average, that LGBT women say they are “out to” in their workplace.
  • 72%: Portion of co-workers, on average, that LGBT men say they are “out to” in their workplace.
  • 43%: Portion of gay and lesbian workers who say their manager is very comfortable with LGBT employees.
  • 13%: Portion of gay and lesbian workers who say their manager is very informed about LGBT issues.
  • 36%: Portion of gay and lesbian employees who experience discrimination and wind up changing careers.

Sources: Catalyst LGBT report, May, 2009; Ryerson University's Diversity Institute in Management and Technology.

A TIMELINE

1969: Canadian government decriminalizes homosexuality, with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's famous line: “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”

1977: Quebec becomes first Canadian jurisdiction to amend provincial Charter of Human Rights to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination.

1981: Toronto police officers raid four gay bathhouses and arrest nearly 300 men, sparking the largest gay demonstration in Canada's history, and marking a turning point for the gay and lesbian movement.

1982: Federal Court of Canada decides that the Canadian Human Rights Act protects homosexuals.

1984: Sexual orientation is added to IBM Canada's non-discrimination policy. IBM becomes one of the first major companies to make this change.

1985: Equality rights section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms takes effect.

1992: After a court challenge, Canadian Forces agree to stop discrimination against gays and lesbians.

1994: London Life Insurance Co. and Levi Strauss & Co. are among the companies that extend same-sex benefits to Canadian employees.

2005: Canada becomes fourth country to legalize same-sex marriage, following the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain.

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