If you are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community like me, navigating a career can feel like an obstacle course. Verbal and online harassment, prejudice in hiring practices, bigotry in the workplace, and microaggressions are common and exhausting. But there are strategies you can use to protect yourself in the job search process and in career. Here are eight strategies (plus resources) to help you traverse your career safely from yours truly— a fellow queer, non-binary author.
Before you start searching for jobs, it’s essential to take a bird’s eye view of what you want from a workplace. What values do you hold dear? What could you absolutely not tolerate from a job? Especially as an LGBTQIA+ person, there are extra considerations when thinking about the ideal place to work for. An example might be prioritizing job offers from companies that have LGBTQIA+ executives or founders. If you aren’t sure where to start, here’s a guide on determining your workplace values and aligning with where you work.
Finding a safe workplace where you can be fully yourself and not worry about discrimination is paramount in my mind. But depending on your financial situation or the area and socio-political environment you live in, it may not be safe enough to do so. It’s a tricky balance. Having to hide your orientation or identity can have negative impacts on your physical and mental well-being. But sometimes, you have to do what you need to do to survive. Either way, it’s absolutely your choice! Keep in mind, too, that there are more remote jobs these days. So if the area you live in has high amounts of discriminatory practices towards LGBTQIA+ folx, apply for jobs from other places if you can.
During Pride month, you’ll notice rainbows everywhere. But a company waving the rainbow flag does not always reflect its true colors. Many companies use targeted marketing aimed at LGBTQIA+ folx but still donate money to openly anti-gay politicians. Please make no mistake. These companies are only using our community for profit and then stabbing us in the back. And any company that does so doesn’t deserve your time, effort, or support. Take some time to check into the background, leadership, and socio-political interactions a company has. A good option is to read online reviews from people who have worked there through sites like Glassdoor. Or, you can reach out on a platform like LinkedIn and have conversations with former and current employees to get a better sense of what it’s like to work there.
Having an internal community at a workplace can be invaluable, especially to support you in difficult times. So while performing company research in the first few steps above, try and see if there are support groups at the company. They are often called employee resource groups (ERG), and some can be found through a Google search. Another way to tell if a company has them is to scroll through LinkedIn and see if any current or previous employees are openly LGBTQIA+ on their profile. If you find someone that mentions their identity on their profile or headline, feel free to reach out and ask if they’d be willing to talk to you about what kind of community resources the company has. You can also ask a human resources representative or a hiring manager for information on ERGs in their company.
An interview can feel like walking a tightrope. But don’t hesitate to ask questions about the company’s workplace environment, culture, and discrimination policies. If the interviewer struggles to answer or suggests that what you’re asking isn’t appropriate in any way— reject the opportunity and move on. A company should have open, transparent, and organized LGBTQIA+ policies. When asking questions, you don’t have to reveal your orientation if you don’t want to. You can always position yourself as an ally as you ask questions. But any organization that can’t prove itself to be an LGBTQIA+ safe or supportive place isn’t worth your time or well-being.
Some questions to ask can include:
Determining organizational values and policies is a critical step to ensure your safety at work. So if any red flags pop up as you ask questions, trust your intuition and keep looking for a better opportunity elsewhere.
Both as a worker generally, and specifically an LGBTQIA+ professional, you have rights. Anti-discrimination laws do exist, although many employers break the law with their practices. And there’s no need to tolerate that. If you experience harassment or discrimination, there are multiple different steps you can take.
Suppose you are job hunting and feel you were passed over because of your gender or sexual orientation. In that case, you can file an employment discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the United States, it is illegal for companies to discriminate against job candidates because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Do keep in mind that most companies can defend themselves by citing the reason they didn’t hire you as pretty much anything other than your identity. However, it still is worthwhile to report your experience. It can add to the number of cases and put more pressure on the government to create better legal protections.
If you are experiencing discrimination where you are currently employed, you have options as well. At first, it might be a good idea to try and resolve the situation by speaking with your supervisor about the incident(s). The company may also have a formal grievance procedure, and an HR or union representative should be able to walk you through it. You can also choose to file an employment discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The organization will investigate your complaint at no cost to you and try to resolve the issue. Pro-tip: if you report through the EEOC, know that you have to file the complaint within 300 days of the last act of discrimination or harassment. Otherwise, your case may be dismissed without investigation.
Finding a supportive group at work can be a huge source of peace of mind, but having one outside of work is also significant. Without a community outside of work, you may become vulnerable or burnt out. So on the professional front, message and connect with fellow LGBTQIA+ members or groups on LinkedIn. For the personal side, if you have friends or family that accept you (which they should), don’t be afraid to ask them for support or to listen if you face challenges because of your identity. And if you don’t have a group of family members or friends that support you, don’t let them keep you down!
There are online organizations and groups on social media that can help you find community and stress relief. Of course, there is always an element of stranger danger, so be careful if agreeing to meet someone you met online in person. Know your personal boundaries, but push yourself to find the right people to connect and share your life with. In my experience, although it can be very difficult, reaching out to others can change your entire life for the better. To get you started, Harvard Business Review has a great guide on how to safely make new friends online. And Very Well Mind has a great article here about LGBTQIA+ online support groups.
If you feel safe to do so, report instances of discrimination (including microaggressions) that you experience at work. The harsh reality is that nothing will improve if we don’t push for change and report our experiences. If there aren’t any inclusivity trainings or LGBTQIA+ groups within the company, ask if you can spearhead some. You never know. Maybe you will be the one to ignite the spark of change!
Overall, you have to do what you need to do to stay afloat financially and feel safe. And that’s understandable! How and if you reveal your identity as an LGBTQIA+ individual is entirely up to you. Either way, by taking some of the above steps, you are much more likely to be happy and safe at work. For more information on finding a job where you are celebrated and happy, check out our blog and our online career coaching courses here.
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