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Celebrate LGBTQ+ Representation on National Coming Out Day

Celebrate LGBTQ+ Representation on National Coming Out Day

​National Coming Out Day is observed on Oct. 11 to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people “coming out of the closet” and being their authentic selves in public, with friends and family, and at work.The driving belief behind the day of awareness is that as more people reveal their identity and more people know someone who is LGBTQ+, homophobic stereotypes will be dispelled. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ workers say they are closeted at work, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The top reasons for not being open at work include fear of being stereotyped, not wanting to make people uncomfortable and concern over losing relationships among colleagues. Brian McComak, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant; speaker; and author, spoke with SHRM Online about his early experiences coming out at work. He also addressed the power of LGBTQ+ representation in an organization, and how much has changed—and not changed—for people making the decision to come out in the 25 years since he first did so. McComak is the founder and CEO of Hummingbird Humanity, a consulting firm that cultivates and champions inclusive workplace cultures and leadership. SHRM Online: Tell me about your first experience coming out at work. McComak: I came out at 21 years old, and then went back in the closet at age 24. People need to understand that coming out is an ongoing process. It is not a one-time event, but is repeated many times throughout a career, sometimes several times a day. It’s something that those of us who have an invisible story to tell make a choice about sharing with each new employer, each new colleague we meet. The first time I came out at work, I was working for AMC Theatres in operations. I worked with a wonderful group of people there, and I began to tell them that I was gay. My co-workers were very supportive, which I think is a typical experience in service industry environments.Eventually I decided I wanted to change careers, so I went back to school and got a master’s degree in human resources and change management. A day before my 25th birthday, I started a new corporate HR job at Red Lobster. When I walked in that first day, I went back in the closet. I wasn’t sure that being out in a corporate environment would be accepted. At lunch, on my first day, someone asked me if I had a girlfriend. A simple question, but it sparked a collection of questions I had to answer internally. Do I come out? Is it safe to come out? Will they accept me? Will it affect my job and my career? I chose to say “no” and brushed off the question, keeping that part of myself hidden. A week later, I was talking with my new boss who mentioned his husband. “Wow,” I thought, “he just came out to me.” Feeling safe to do so, I came out to him and then learned there were many members …

DE&I Without Cancel Culture

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DE&I Without Cancel Culture

​Recently an HR director told me about resistance she experienced from a senior executive toward the company’s new diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiative. The executive made comments disparaging the new practice of adding gender pronouns to employees’ e-mail signature block.I suggested that these comments created an opportunity for a one-on-one conversation. “Rather than trying to pressure him or avoid him,” I said, “explore with him why he feels the way he does. What’s the source of his concern? Why does he feel the way he feels? What are his overall thoughts about the DE&I program?” By engaging with him, I explained, she might learn ways to connect. “If nothing else, he’ll at least know that HR is willing to listen and try to understand differing viewpoints.” Unfortunately, too often in circumstances where someone voices opposition to a DE&I initiative, the reaction is hostility, rejection or avoidance. The operating assumption is that there’s something wrong with this person. He or she is the problem, the obstacle, and some may call for the person to be “canceled.” These negative assessments and the negative feelings and emotions they generate will undermine the overall DE&I initiative. The negativity translates into resistance, passive or otherwise. In the end, you may have diversity. But you won’t have inclusion.Alexander Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SHRM’s chief knowledge officer, describes this problem as “diss-versity.” “Simply put,” he explained, “this refers to seeking people who look different from you but believe in the same things.” Alonso cites research showing that 1 in 5 people reported being excluded or pushed out of their organizations because of their beliefs. He notes that DE&I initiatives that practice diss-versity undercut their organizations. “Dissing diversity of thought results in two key disadvantages: increased distraction [from the initiative because people are] focused on making sure everyone is aligned and diminished collaboration because of assumed alignment. Both mean a less productive organization.”Convert Frustration into OpportunityIn my experience, for any DE&I initiative to be truly successful, it necessarily will include employees whose personal views don’t exactly align with the DE&I principles. For example, after launching a DE&I initiative, the HR director of a client of mine encountered resistance from a white male senior partner at the law firm. “This is politically correct nonsense,” he said. “The woke police have taken over!”The HR director could have easily gone into fight or flight mode: “How dare you, you rotten Neanderthal!” Or thinking to herself, “Henceforth, I’ll avoid him like the plague.” Instead, she engaged him in a conversation about his views. After listening to him (here are some good listening techniques), she shifted the topic to how he might be part of this program, help others and potentially experience something meaningful and positive. The attorney ended up mentoring a young female associate, helping her develop litigation and client development skills. It became one of the program’s success stories. The key here was the HR director’s willingness to engage, not condemn. My DE&I ExperienceMany years ago, I managed a law firm. We …

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