After being open about my sexuality at university, I went back into the closet.
WHAT are you doing this weekend? Any plans for your birthday? Is there anyone special in your life?” Admittedly, these seem like very normal questions colleagues ask when they are trying to get to know you. But despite being “out” at university, I spent the first year of my first job tiptoeing around, fearing someone would ask me one of these questions, and I’d accidently reveal my secret.
I graduated from university seven years ago, and during my time there I was confidently and proudly open about my sexuality, and had a great group of friends who completely embraced me for who I am.
Before I joined Accenture, I didn’t know what a corporate environment would be like. Because of that lack of understanding, I wrongly came to the conclusion that I had to hide my sexuality at work. I’m a pretty ambitious person, so I really wanted people to know me based on my talent and skill, rather than my sexuality.
Making the decision not to be open was tough. I’d often go home in the evenings and agonise about the decision to “come out”. I regularly battled with the “what ifs” spinning around my head. “What if people react badly? What if it ends up having some negative impact on my job?”
As the year went on, I realised that hiding who I am was having a damaging effect on my day-to-day work life and my mental health. A large part of what I do is based on working closely with my team and building client relationships. Always being on-guard, in fear that I’d let something slip about my sexuality, meant that I couldn’t build strong team or client relationships. It got so bad that at one point I even allowed my colleagues to think that I had a boyfriend because I was so scared about how they might react to the fact I had a girlfriend.
After months of battling with the decision to be open with my colleagues, I realised I needed to speak to people who might understand what I had been going through. I’d heard about Accenture’s LGBTQ network, but initially hesitated in joining in case colleagues found out the truth before I could tell my story myself – if I even decided I wanted to. It turned out that it was actually through meeting fantastic people in the network that my colleagues gave me the confidence to come out – and come out proudly.
I never imagined that coming out at work would be the best decision I’ve ever made, but it was. It has enhanced my wellbeing, helped accelerate my career, and improved my skillset in ways that I simply wouldn’t have experienced were I not open about who I am.
I’m fortunate to have a great employer, but in terms of helping others, I’d love to see universities partnering with businesses to dispel the myth that LGBTQ people can expect negative experiences at work because of their sexuality.
I’d also love to see more businesses taking up the Accenture LGBTQ and Allies approach, which acts as a vehicle for progression and a continuous reminder of the firm’s inclusive culture towards diversity. For example, any official Ally at Accenture wears a rainbow lanyard to identify themselves as someone who is an active supporter of the LGBTQ agenda. This is great as it acts as a visual clue to colleagues that they can be open to these people without fearing a negative reaction.
My advice for anyone who is feeling uneasy about coming out to their colleagues – but wants to – would be to come out slowly, to people you trust. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by their reactions. When I came out at Accenture, I thought it would be a “big bang” type moment, but I was almost disappointed that people didn’t make a bigger deal out of it. Instead, they were incredibly kind and ended up apologising to me because they only wished that I had felt that I could have come out earlier.
The above article was first published in City Am on 14 Dec 2017