July 11, 2022
9
Min read

How do LGBTQ+ people navigate ‘coming out’ at work?

Written By
Nausheen Eusuf & Simon Dumont
With thanks To
Ray Slater Berry | DSLX, Cynthia Benitez | Global M, Pawel Banhegyi | Dapper & Amaia Alustiza | Elvie, Michael McGraw | Inovia

Straight and cisgender people often think of ‘coming out’ as a grand, once-in-a-lifetime event. But in fact, coming out is a never-ending process for LGBTQ+ people.

Every time there's a new group of people to meet, there’s a set of questions to navigate. When do you come out? How do you come out? Do you come out at all? How will they react? Will people treat you differently?

Starting a new job is a prime example. While new friends or acquaintances often come via shared connections, a new workplace = a fully clean slate of fresh faces. New colleagues know absolutely nothing about us—apart from what we choose to reveal.

But choosing what to reveal—and how to do it—isn’t always straightforward. It depends on two things: the individual, and the workplace.

So we spoke to some LGBTQ+ people about how they approach coming out at work. We also asked for their advice to help others struggling to navigate it—and to help companies make their people feel safe to come out.

“I’m proud to be gay, but it doesn’t define who I am” - Ray Slater Berry | DSLX

Ray Slater Berry is a writer and marketing professional. He is the director and founder of DSLX, a B2B SaaS content agency on a mission to empower dyslexic and minority writers.

It was a bottle of ketchup that prompted me to come out at work!

I had just started working as a content and social media manager at a bartending school in Barcelona. I thought I was presenting as gay, but perhaps it didn’t come across as obvious as I’d thought. A girl in the office started flirting with me, although I didn’t realise it right away.

One day, I brought up that I really missed Heinz ketchup from home. The next day I opened the fridge and there was a bottle of Heinz ketchup with my name on it. I had to say something.

But, I also worried about presuming my colleague was flirting with me. I thought, maybe they were just being friendly? I didn’t want to offend anyone. It’s a weird game to play—you don’t want to presume anyone’s interested in you, but you also don’t want to feel like you’re lying or misleading people.

I was dating someone at the time. So, at lunchtime, when several colleagues were around, I casually mentioned that he and I would be meeting up after work.

"I could see in their eyes that moment of realisation when it clicked."

<quote-author>Ray Slater Berry<quote-author><quote-company>Director at DSLX<quote-company>

Most of the time, it’s no big deal. But you can see how someone’s perception of you changes, and they act just slightly differently around you. In my experience, girls warm up and guys tend to cool off a little. 

The bar school was the first job where I felt comfortable coming out. Before that, I worked in London, but I was still in the process of discovering my sexuality and becoming comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t in the right headspace to come out then.

Moving to Barcelona helped: it was a new city and I could be this new version of myself from day one. I felt free to live my truest, most authentic self. I no longer had to feel like I had been lying to people.

After coming out, I became closer to my female colleagues because I felt more comfortable with them. On the other hand, the leadership at that company was six very ‘macho’ guys. They were all awesome one-on-one,  but when they were together it could sometimes be an overwhelming amount of masculine energy.

Jumping forward to today, I lead with my sexuality. It’s obvious on all my social media profiles. If people do their research, they’ll probably know pretty fast.
 

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

One thing I’ve struggled with is worrying about my sexuality defining who I am. But leading with being gay and letting it define you are two different things.

My advice: don’t be afraid that coming out at work means you’ll be known as the gay person in the office. You’re going to be known for who you are—your talents, passions, skills, and personality. Being gay is an aside that just lifts you up a bit more. If you do your job well, that’s what you’ll be known for.
 

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out:

Don’t try to adopt the language of gay culture. During Pride month, some companies suddenly start talking like they’re on Drag Race. It’s not authentic and people see right through it.

Instead, build a culture of sensitivity and empathy so that anyone, from any minority group, feels safe to be themselves. Use thoughtful and inclusive language—but don’t appropriate the language of the culture you’re trying to include.

If you’ve done your job well, and your space is safe, you’ll see it in your talent acquisition, retention, and overall happiness of your employees.

“I was so happy I stopped caring what anyone thought” - Cynthia Benitez | Global M

Cynthia Benitez is an HR professional who has worked in multinational companies and startups in Argentina and Spain. She focuses on talent, diversity & inclusion, and employer branding.

Six years ago, I came out to my family, friends, and colleagues—all at once.

I was 27 at the time, living in Argentina and working for a multinational at their corporate office. It was a very traditional environment. I was the first one to come out, even though I wasn’t the only gay person there.

I’d been interviewing internally for an HR role in the factory office, but realised I wouldn’t feel safe. I’d worked there before and I knew that sexist and homophobic jokes were normalised. In fact, I used to laugh along with them—even though I’d feel terrible afterwards. It made it hard to accept myself. I tried hard to be a ‘normal’ person, and was even in a straight relationship.

It took years of therapy and a lot of tears to accept myself and not care what anyone else thinks. I came out to my therapist, my mother, my friends, and then my manager at work. I was so happy that I just wanted to tell everyone. I felt lighter, like a weight had been lifted off my chest.

My manager was really surprised—I’d actually just gotten married to a man a few months before. But she was very supportive. My previous manager was very traditional and religious. If he was still there, I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable telling him.

News travels fast and I got mixed reactions from my colleagues.

"Some colleagues were curious. Some stared at me. Some became distant. But it didn’t matter. I was just so happy for myself that I didn’t care."

<quote-author>Cynthia Benitez<quote-author><quote-company>HR professional at Global M<quote-company>

Afterwards, other colleagues felt empowered to tell me they were gay, too. Part of the reason I came out publicly was to help others who were closeted. I wanted to create awareness and visibility.

Coming out is a never-ending process. So when I moved to Madrid and then Barcelona, I included ‘proud LGBTQ+ member’ in my CV. Now when interviewing for jobs, I always mention casually that I live with my wife and five dogs.

If they react badly, I know it’s not the right place for me. As an HR professional, I want to build a diverse and inclusive culture. So it’s important that people feel comfortable with me being who I am.

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

Go to therapy to understand yourself and figure out what’s best for you. It’s a deeply personal choice, but I think it’s better to be authentic at work because you’ll be happier if you can speak openly about your life. If other people aren’t okay with that, it’s their problem—not yours.

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out: 

Don’t assume that someone is straight. Be respectful, because you don’t know other people’s realities. Talk about it and let people know it’s okay to be whoever they want to be. Don’t make jokes. If someone says something inappropriate, tell them it’s wrong and disrespectful.

“I felt culturally obliged not to talk about being gay” - Pawel Banhegyi | Dapper

Pawel Banhegyi has previously worked in materials science and construction engineering, and now works at the marketing agency Dapper as a growth hacker.

I’ve been working for 10 years, but I’ve only been fully ‘out’ at work since last week.

I come from Poland where people don’t talk about their sexuality at work. It’s slowly changing, but the general mentality is: if you’re gay, keep it to yourself. I became used to being closeted.

Even outside of Poland, I still didn’t feel comfortable being openly gay at work. I was afraid and didn’t want to be judged. I’d use vague and gender-neutral language to avoid revealing that my partner was male.

I worked at one company for 8 years, and nobody ever knew I had a male partner. If anyone asked about a wife or girlfriend, I would change the subject. Since it was a fully remote work environment, there weren’t many occasions for casual conversation where it could come up.

I don’t feel good that I worked at a place for 8 years and was basically lying. Or rather, I was hiding—to protect myself. It’s not that it wasn’t safe. I just felt culturally obliged not to talk about being gay.

Ultimately it did more harm than good, because it affected my ability to build relationships with my colleagues. I think most people wouldn’t react badly to someone being gay. But if the truth eventually comes out, they might feel cheated because you didn’t trust them enough to tell them.

"After 10 years of working, it’s only since last week at my current job that I’m finally, completely open with everyone."

<quote-author>Pawel Banhegyi<quote-author><quote-company>Growth Hacker at Dapper<quote-company>


I was waiting for the right moment and it just happened naturally. I had a call with a colleague and there was a sound from the other room. I said, “That’s my fiancé.” My colleague asked, “What’s her name?” When I told her it’s a ‘he’, she was really apologetic. But after that, the topic became normalised.

As of last week, everyone at my current workplace knows. I even brought my partner to a social event, so some of my colleagues have met him over dinner and drinks.

After being closeted for years and years, it’s a big leap to suddenly be open. It feels weird.

If someone asks about my fiancé, I still feel uneasy—as if they’re calling me out on something embarrassing. I’m still figuring it out in my head, and trying to be comfortable talking about it.

Even talking to Oliva about it is a big deal for me. It feels strange that a lot of people will see this. But I guess that’s not a bad thing. 

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

Don’t overthink it. The world is much more open than we think. We no longer live in times when you’ll be punished for being gay, and most people won’t really care that you’re not straight.

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out:

In casual conversations, don’t automatically assume heterosexuality, like asking a guy if he has a girlfriend. Make the question more neutral so that it’s an open invitation instead.

“Each micro-situation is a mini coming-out” - Michael McGraw | Inovia Capital

Mike McGraw has built a successful career in private equity and venture capital firms, and is currently a VP at Inovia Capital. He also mentors early-career LGBTQ+ professionals.

It took me a year to come out at my first job.

After university, I went into finance and worked in the investment team at a Canadian pension fund in Montreal. It was my first big finance job, and I didn’t want to take any chances that might hurt my career. Instead, I focused on building strong relationships.

My colleagues assumed I was straight. They’d make good-natured jokes about me being a Casanova and breaking girls’ hearts. So that locked me into a box, since I wasn’t comfortable coming out yet.

Then the next summer, a huge bouquet of flowers arrived at the office on my birthday. Two of my colleagues were around. We all thought my mom sent it. I opened the card, and it turned out to be from the guy I’d met at Pride in Toronto a couple of weeks before.

That's when I finally came out to them.

"We already had a great relationship, so I wasn’t afraid. I was glad to finally have the occasion. It was super chill."

<quote-author>Michael McGraw<quote-author><quote-company>VP at Inovia Capital<quote-company>

But I was still unsure of how to handle it with more senior people—especially one guy who was my mentor.

A few weeks after the bouquet, he and I went on a business trip to Melbourne. At one point, we were at a Japanese restaurant, and he started quizzing me about the flowers. He went through the list: A girlfriend? An ex-girlfriend? A girl whose heart I broke? A guy?

When he said ‘a guy,’ my eyes went wide. He smiled, raised his hand to flag a waiter, and said “Another bottle of sake please!” Then he turned to me and said, “Why didn’t you freaking tell me?”

So at my next job, I came out within the first 2 or 3 weeks. I wanted to head off any assumptions or jokes or comments. This time it was so mundane that I don’t even remember the details. It wasn’t a grand reveal like the flowers.

At my current job in London, I came out even before I started. I was at a dinner with the three partners of the VC fund I was about to join. One of them turned to me and said, “So Mike, do you have a partner, girlfriend, boyfriend?” It was awesome that he made it so easy. The door was wide open for me to walk in if I wanted to.

Coming out at work has gotten easier with practice. But it’s something I always have to navigate at each new job, and when meeting new people at cocktails, dinners, and other events. I make sure to mention my partner, just so I’ve checked off that box. I’m always relieved when they acknowledge it by asking a follow-up question, because then I know I can relax.
 

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

Start small and build from there. That might just be one colleague that you’re close to. After that, it’ll get easier over time with each new person.

There are also many organisations for LGBTQ+ professionals. It’s really powerful to have a network of peers to share experiences. It’s like having a family and a safety net.

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out:

Don’t put people in boxes by making assumptions. Use neutral language and leave the door open for people to tell you if they want to. If you make a misstep and it’s awkward, just apologise to show that you have good intentions.

It’s also important for companies to publicly signal their support, whether it’s by changing their logo during Pride month or by sponsoring Pride month events. When I see my company logo change to rainbow colours, it makes me feel at home.

“Not coming out led me to burnout” - Amaia Alustiza | Elvie

Originally from the Basque country in Spain, Amaia Alustiza moved to Madrid to work in digital marketing. She’s now based in London pursuing a career in e-commerce.

I left my first few jobs without telling anyone I was gay.

My first job was at a traditional Spanish construction company. I felt like if I revealed my sexuality, I’d become the lesbian at work and everyone would whisper about me when I walked into a room. Being straight was always assumed. I remember my manager showing me a new starter’s CV and saying, ‘what a cute guy, maybe he’s one for you!’

My second job wasn’t the most open environment either, but in hindsight I think it would’ve been OK to come out. It was more of an internal barrier. But in a company of 300 people, there was only one gay person—so there was a lack of other people like me to reference.

I remember thinking, ‘it’s personal information, I don’t need to disclose it.’ Which is fair enough, I guess. But it definitely made it tougher to connect with people, like I was carrying a burden. In one job I ended up with burnout, and I think this was a factor. When you’re not being yourself, your mind and body will always find a way to tell you.

After seeing a therapist, I started to think of my sexuality like my nationality. Whenever I say I’m Spanish, I’m disclosing personal information. If someone said I was Italian, I would naturally correct them. I decided to start doing the same with my sexuality.

So when I joined my last company, I thought: this time, I’m going to be clear that I’m gay from the beginning. 

"At one of the first team dinners, someone asked if I had a boyfriend. I told them I don't have a partner—but if I did, it'd be a girl."

<quote-author>Amaia Alustiza<quote-author><quote-company>Key Account Manager at Elvie<quote-company>

It was a bit uncomfortable correcting them in front of other people. In a new company, you don't know people or how they think. You’re nervous and want to belong in the team. I felt a bit like I was telling them off! Since then, I’ve gotten better at introducing the topic in a lighter way. 

But it paid off. Since that moment, everybody knew. And I think it does make a difference. At the end of the day, you’re hiding part of who you are. Being open allows you to feel more connected to your colleagues. If you’re stressed, for example, you feel more able to share this with them too.

I wouldn’t be able to go back to the environments at my old jobs now. I went along with the situation at the time, because I was used to doing this outside of work too. But now, I wouldn’t accept it.

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

First, do an internal check-in. Ask yourself: How are you dealing with internalised homophobia? Are you ready to come out to everyone?

Second, understand that being happy at work is key for your overall mental wellbeing. I’ve heard people say, ‘I can’t come out at my job because I’m worried what will happen and I need the money.’ If you really feel like you can’t come out at your job, I’d recommend leaving that job.

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out:

Invest in allyship training. This gets people motivated to share their opinions, and to develop their active listening skills, which is very important.

If you have LGBTQ+ leaders or managers, get them to put on events that allow anyone to speak who wants to. This gives other LGBTQ+ people in your organisation an opportunity for visibility.

Oliva therapist portrait photo

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July 11, 2022
9
Min read

How do LGBTQ+ people navigate ‘coming out’ at work?

Written By
Nausheen Eusuf & Simon Dumont
With thanks To
Ray Slater Berry | DSLX, Cynthia Benitez | Global M, Pawel Banhegyi | Dapper & Amaia Alustiza | Elvie, Michael McGraw | Inovia

Straight and cisgender people often think of ‘coming out’ as a grand, once-in-a-lifetime event. But in fact, coming out is a never-ending process for LGBTQ+ people.

Every time there's a new group of people to meet, there’s a set of questions to navigate. When do you come out? How do you come out? Do you come out at all? How will they react? Will people treat you differently?

Starting a new job is a prime example. While new friends or acquaintances often come via shared connections, a new workplace = a fully clean slate of fresh faces. New colleagues know absolutely nothing about us—apart from what we choose to reveal.

But choosing what to reveal—and how to do it—isn’t always straightforward. It depends on two things: the individual, and the workplace.

So we spoke to some LGBTQ+ people about how they approach coming out at work. We also asked for their advice to help others struggling to navigate it—and to help companies make their people feel safe to come out.

“I’m proud to be gay, but it doesn’t define who I am” - Ray Slater Berry | DSLX

Ray Slater Berry is a writer and marketing professional. He is the director and founder of DSLX, a B2B SaaS content agency on a mission to empower dyslexic and minority writers.

It was a bottle of ketchup that prompted me to come out at work!

I had just started working as a content and social media manager at a bartending school in Barcelona. I thought I was presenting as gay, but perhaps it didn’t come across as obvious as I’d thought. A girl in the office started flirting with me, although I didn’t realise it right away.

One day, I brought up that I really missed Heinz ketchup from home. The next day I opened the fridge and there was a bottle of Heinz ketchup with my name on it. I had to say something.

But, I also worried about presuming my colleague was flirting with me. I thought, maybe they were just being friendly? I didn’t want to offend anyone. It’s a weird game to play—you don’t want to presume anyone’s interested in you, but you also don’t want to feel like you’re lying or misleading people.

I was dating someone at the time. So, at lunchtime, when several colleagues were around, I casually mentioned that he and I would be meeting up after work.

"I could see in their eyes that moment of realisation when it clicked."

<quote-author>Ray Slater Berry<quote-author><quote-company>Director at DSLX<quote-company>

Most of the time, it’s no big deal. But you can see how someone’s perception of you changes, and they act just slightly differently around you. In my experience, girls warm up and guys tend to cool off a little. 

The bar school was the first job where I felt comfortable coming out. Before that, I worked in London, but I was still in the process of discovering my sexuality and becoming comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t in the right headspace to come out then.

Moving to Barcelona helped: it was a new city and I could be this new version of myself from day one. I felt free to live my truest, most authentic self. I no longer had to feel like I had been lying to people.

After coming out, I became closer to my female colleagues because I felt more comfortable with them. On the other hand, the leadership at that company was six very ‘macho’ guys. They were all awesome one-on-one,  but when they were together it could sometimes be an overwhelming amount of masculine energy.

Jumping forward to today, I lead with my sexuality. It’s obvious on all my social media profiles. If people do their research, they’ll probably know pretty fast.
 

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

One thing I’ve struggled with is worrying about my sexuality defining who I am. But leading with being gay and letting it define you are two different things.

My advice: don’t be afraid that coming out at work means you’ll be known as the gay person in the office. You’re going to be known for who you are—your talents, passions, skills, and personality. Being gay is an aside that just lifts you up a bit more. If you do your job well, that’s what you’ll be known for.
 

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out:

Don’t try to adopt the language of gay culture. During Pride month, some companies suddenly start talking like they’re on Drag Race. It’s not authentic and people see right through it.

Instead, build a culture of sensitivity and empathy so that anyone, from any minority group, feels safe to be themselves. Use thoughtful and inclusive language—but don’t appropriate the language of the culture you’re trying to include.

If you’ve done your job well, and your space is safe, you’ll see it in your talent acquisition, retention, and overall happiness of your employees.

“I was so happy I stopped caring what anyone thought” - Cynthia Benitez | Global M

Cynthia Benitez is an HR professional who has worked in multinational companies and startups in Argentina and Spain. She focuses on talent, diversity & inclusion, and employer branding.

Six years ago, I came out to my family, friends, and colleagues—all at once.

I was 27 at the time, living in Argentina and working for a multinational at their corporate office. It was a very traditional environment. I was the first one to come out, even though I wasn’t the only gay person there.

I’d been interviewing internally for an HR role in the factory office, but realised I wouldn’t feel safe. I’d worked there before and I knew that sexist and homophobic jokes were normalised. In fact, I used to laugh along with them—even though I’d feel terrible afterwards. It made it hard to accept myself. I tried hard to be a ‘normal’ person, and was even in a straight relationship.

It took years of therapy and a lot of tears to accept myself and not care what anyone else thinks. I came out to my therapist, my mother, my friends, and then my manager at work. I was so happy that I just wanted to tell everyone. I felt lighter, like a weight had been lifted off my chest.

My manager was really surprised—I’d actually just gotten married to a man a few months before. But she was very supportive. My previous manager was very traditional and religious. If he was still there, I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable telling him.

News travels fast and I got mixed reactions from my colleagues.

Quote author photograph
"Some colleagues were curious. Some stared at me. Some became distant. But it didn’t matter. I was just so happy for myself that I didn’t care."

<quote-author>Cynthia Benitez<quote-author><quote-company>HR professional at Global M<quote-company>

Afterwards, other colleagues felt empowered to tell me they were gay, too. Part of the reason I came out publicly was to help others who were closeted. I wanted to create awareness and visibility.

Coming out is a never-ending process. So when I moved to Madrid and then Barcelona, I included ‘proud LGBTQ+ member’ in my CV. Now when interviewing for jobs, I always mention casually that I live with my wife and five dogs.

If they react badly, I know it’s not the right place for me. As an HR professional, I want to build a diverse and inclusive culture. So it’s important that people feel comfortable with me being who I am.

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

Go to therapy to understand yourself and figure out what’s best for you. It’s a deeply personal choice, but I think it’s better to be authentic at work because you’ll be happier if you can speak openly about your life. If other people aren’t okay with that, it’s their problem—not yours.

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out: 

Don’t assume that someone is straight. Be respectful, because you don’t know other people’s realities. Talk about it and let people know it’s okay to be whoever they want to be. Don’t make jokes. If someone says something inappropriate, tell them it’s wrong and disrespectful.

“I felt culturally obliged not to talk about being gay” - Pawel Banhegyi | Dapper

Pawel Banhegyi has previously worked in materials science and construction engineering, and now works at the marketing agency Dapper as a growth hacker.

I’ve been working for 10 years, but I’ve only been fully ‘out’ at work since last week.

I come from Poland where people don’t talk about their sexuality at work. It’s slowly changing, but the general mentality is: if you’re gay, keep it to yourself. I became used to being closeted.

Even outside of Poland, I still didn’t feel comfortable being openly gay at work. I was afraid and didn’t want to be judged. I’d use vague and gender-neutral language to avoid revealing that my partner was male.

I worked at one company for 8 years, and nobody ever knew I had a male partner. If anyone asked about a wife or girlfriend, I would change the subject. Since it was a fully remote work environment, there weren’t many occasions for casual conversation where it could come up.

I don’t feel good that I worked at a place for 8 years and was basically lying. Or rather, I was hiding—to protect myself. It’s not that it wasn’t safe. I just felt culturally obliged not to talk about being gay.

Ultimately it did more harm than good, because it affected my ability to build relationships with my colleagues. I think most people wouldn’t react badly to someone being gay. But if the truth eventually comes out, they might feel cheated because you didn’t trust them enough to tell them.

"After 10 years of working, it’s only since last week at my current job that I’m finally, completely open with everyone."

<quote-author>Pawel Banhegyi<quote-author><quote-company>Growth Hacker at Dapper<quote-company>


I was waiting for the right moment and it just happened naturally. I had a call with a colleague and there was a sound from the other room. I said, “That’s my fiancé.” My colleague asked, “What’s her name?” When I told her it’s a ‘he’, she was really apologetic. But after that, the topic became normalised.

As of last week, everyone at my current workplace knows. I even brought my partner to a social event, so some of my colleagues have met him over dinner and drinks.

After being closeted for years and years, it’s a big leap to suddenly be open. It feels weird.

If someone asks about my fiancé, I still feel uneasy—as if they’re calling me out on something embarrassing. I’m still figuring it out in my head, and trying to be comfortable talking about it.

Even talking to Oliva about it is a big deal for me. It feels strange that a lot of people will see this. But I guess that’s not a bad thing. 

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

Don’t overthink it. The world is much more open than we think. We no longer live in times when you’ll be punished for being gay, and most people won’t really care that you’re not straight.

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out:

In casual conversations, don’t automatically assume heterosexuality, like asking a guy if he has a girlfriend. Make the question more neutral so that it’s an open invitation instead.

“Each micro-situation is a mini coming-out” - Michael McGraw | Inovia Capital

Mike McGraw has built a successful career in private equity and venture capital firms, and is currently a VP at Inovia Capital. He also mentors early-career LGBTQ+ professionals.

It took me a year to come out at my first job.

After university, I went into finance and worked in the investment team at a Canadian pension fund in Montreal. It was my first big finance job, and I didn’t want to take any chances that might hurt my career. Instead, I focused on building strong relationships.

My colleagues assumed I was straight. They’d make good-natured jokes about me being a Casanova and breaking girls’ hearts. So that locked me into a box, since I wasn’t comfortable coming out yet.

Then the next summer, a huge bouquet of flowers arrived at the office on my birthday. Two of my colleagues were around. We all thought my mom sent it. I opened the card, and it turned out to be from the guy I’d met at Pride in Toronto a couple of weeks before.

That's when I finally came out to them.

quote author photograph
"We already had a great relationship, so I wasn’t afraid. I was glad to finally have the occasion. It was super chill."

<quote-author>Michael McGraw<quote-author><quote-company>VP at Inovia Capital<quote-company>

But I was still unsure of how to handle it with more senior people—especially one guy who was my mentor.

A few weeks after the bouquet, he and I went on a business trip to Melbourne. At one point, we were at a Japanese restaurant, and he started quizzing me about the flowers. He went through the list: A girlfriend? An ex-girlfriend? A girl whose heart I broke? A guy?

When he said ‘a guy,’ my eyes went wide. He smiled, raised his hand to flag a waiter, and said “Another bottle of sake please!” Then he turned to me and said, “Why didn’t you freaking tell me?”

So at my next job, I came out within the first 2 or 3 weeks. I wanted to head off any assumptions or jokes or comments. This time it was so mundane that I don’t even remember the details. It wasn’t a grand reveal like the flowers.

At my current job in London, I came out even before I started. I was at a dinner with the three partners of the VC fund I was about to join. One of them turned to me and said, “So Mike, do you have a partner, girlfriend, boyfriend?” It was awesome that he made it so easy. The door was wide open for me to walk in if I wanted to.

Coming out at work has gotten easier with practice. But it’s something I always have to navigate at each new job, and when meeting new people at cocktails, dinners, and other events. I make sure to mention my partner, just so I’ve checked off that box. I’m always relieved when they acknowledge it by asking a follow-up question, because then I know I can relax.
 

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

Start small and build from there. That might just be one colleague that you’re close to. After that, it’ll get easier over time with each new person.

There are also many organisations for LGBTQ+ professionals. It’s really powerful to have a network of peers to share experiences. It’s like having a family and a safety net.

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out:

Don’t put people in boxes by making assumptions. Use neutral language and leave the door open for people to tell you if they want to. If you make a misstep and it’s awkward, just apologise to show that you have good intentions.

It’s also important for companies to publicly signal their support, whether it’s by changing their logo during Pride month or by sponsoring Pride month events. When I see my company logo change to rainbow colours, it makes me feel at home.

“Not coming out led me to burnout” - Amaia Alustiza | Elvie

Originally from the Basque country in Spain, Amaia Alustiza moved to Madrid to work in digital marketing. She’s now based in London pursuing a career in e-commerce.

I left my first few jobs without telling anyone I was gay.

My first job was at a traditional Spanish construction company. I felt like if I revealed my sexuality, I’d become the lesbian at work and everyone would whisper about me when I walked into a room. Being straight was always assumed. I remember my manager showing me a new starter’s CV and saying, ‘what a cute guy, maybe he’s one for you!’

My second job wasn’t the most open environment either, but in hindsight I think it would’ve been OK to come out. It was more of an internal barrier. But in a company of 300 people, there was only one gay person—so there was a lack of other people like me to reference.

I remember thinking, ‘it’s personal information, I don’t need to disclose it.’ Which is fair enough, I guess. But it definitely made it tougher to connect with people, like I was carrying a burden. In one job I ended up with burnout, and I think this was a factor. When you’re not being yourself, your mind and body will always find a way to tell you.

After seeing a therapist, I started to think of my sexuality like my nationality. Whenever I say I’m Spanish, I’m disclosing personal information. If someone said I was Italian, I would naturally correct them. I decided to start doing the same with my sexuality.

So when I joined my last company, I thought: this time, I’m going to be clear that I’m gay from the beginning. 

"At one of the first team dinners, someone asked if I had a boyfriend. I told them I don't have a partner—but if I did, it'd be a girl."

<quote-author>Amaia Alustiza<quote-author><quote-company>Key Account Manager at Elvie<quote-company>

It was a bit uncomfortable correcting them in front of other people. In a new company, you don't know people or how they think. You’re nervous and want to belong in the team. I felt a bit like I was telling them off! Since then, I’ve gotten better at introducing the topic in a lighter way. 

But it paid off. Since that moment, everybody knew. And I think it does make a difference. At the end of the day, you’re hiding part of who you are. Being open allows you to feel more connected to your colleagues. If you’re stressed, for example, you feel more able to share this with them too.

I wouldn’t be able to go back to the environments at my old jobs now. I went along with the situation at the time, because I was used to doing this outside of work too. But now, I wouldn’t accept it.

Advice for other people struggling to navigate coming out at work:

First, do an internal check-in. Ask yourself: How are you dealing with internalised homophobia? Are you ready to come out to everyone?

Second, understand that being happy at work is key for your overall mental wellbeing. I’ve heard people say, ‘I can’t come out at my job because I’m worried what will happen and I need the money.’ If you really feel like you can’t come out at your job, I’d recommend leaving that job.

Advice for companies that want to make it easier for LGBTQ+ employees to come out:

Invest in allyship training. This gets people motivated to share their opinions, and to develop their active listening skills, which is very important.

If you have LGBTQ+ leaders or managers, get them to put on events that allow anyone to speak who wants to. This gives other LGBTQ+ people in your organisation an opportunity for visibility.

Oliva therapist photograph

by Oliva therapist

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