From that first promotion at work as a site manager – gaining new opportunities and responsibilities. I have always found leading a large group of team members was exhilarating. In those early days of my career, there was something that made me so nervous and uncomfortable that I initially couldn’t pinpoint. It wasn’t the fear of failing or the idea that I wasn’t good enough for this role (don’t get me wrong, imposter syndrome was certainly flowing through my brain during that time) – it was something deeper.
When I discovered I loved training people I was hooked. Group Training allowed me to refine my leadership skills and identify how to build a positive culture. I became a supervisor! I was thrilled for the challenge. However, I recall feeling this sense of un-ease. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but I chalked it up as another case of Imposter Syndrome. But my focus on my team helped me power through. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to lead our training department. I enjoyed this even more than supervising as I was able to solely focus on the development/education of others. Nevertheless, I still encountered this Imposter Syndrome-like feeling.
You may be asking at this point, “Okay, I’ve read what this guy’s career path has been thus far, but what does this mean about LGBTQ+ representation in the workplace?”
To be frank, I was living a lie. At the time, I was a gay man married to a woman and I vowed to never come out to anyone. I dreaded my life would be ruined if anyone knew I was gay. Comments from family and friends, while growing up, continuously reinforced this fear, making me hide my true self further away with every comment. Once I got into a long-term relationship with my now ex-wife, I buried my sexuality – and my authentic self – even deeper.
After a while into our marriage, we ran into challenges, separated from one another, and I came to a point where I needed to make a decision; do I continue living a lie every day, or be me? The tough part, and what I realize today, was I didn’t have a guide or role model. I was way too terrified to even search for blogs or online resources for what was going through my mind. From my perspective, I didn’t have representation that I could look toward – something to tell me “this is normal and it will get better.”
Just after being promoted to Site Manager, I walked into my office, which – to my pleasant surprise – had been elaborately decorated by my new team to welcome me! I was moved by this gesture and was excited to meet my colleagues. Wasting no time, I started one-on-one meetings with everyone in the office of 35 people.
As I met the group, I quickly realized that what this ever-present “sense of un-ease” truly was. My team members were interested in getting to know me as well – what I like to do on the weekends, where I am from, whether I have a wife and kids, etc. What had been weighing me down was the fear of people at work knowing that I am a gay man. Will they think of me differently? Will they lose respect in me? Would they lose trust in me? These self-doubts screamed through my mind like bats in a hurricane!
I forced my way through many meetings without talking about my partner (whom I had been with for an entire year). I always talked about “my friend,” or didn’t really reference anyone specific when talking about him. It was quite an odd feeling because, up to that point, I had “ripped the band aid off” and had come out to my family, friends, and many close colleagues. I was going back into the closest each day I came into work, and it was a terrible feeling (I realize this was a true privilege to even be able to do that then). Up to this point in my career, I had still not seen any representation of another person in the LGBTQ+ community that held a leadership position. When I thought about coming out at work, those bats always came crying back.
THIS is where representation becomes important – no, vital.
According to Out Leadership, “there were only 10 openly LGBT+ directors on the boards of Fortune 500 companies, and only two Fortune 500 boards included sexual orientation and gender identity in their definition of board diversity.” Looking at these metrics, it makes sense why many individuals struggle seeing themselves in a leadership, or senior management level – including myself! Taking a deeper look into the numbers, McKinsey shares that “academic estimates have found that 5.1 percent of US women identify as LGBTQ+ as do 3.9 percent of US men,” and continues that LGBTQ+ women represent just .7% of those in Vice President levels and above. It is also worth calling out that this data shows a concerning gap in representation of LGBTQ+ women compared to LGBTQ+ men.
McKinsey points out is that 30% of LGBTQ+ men believe that their sexual orientation will negatively affect their career advancement at work. I completely understand why many could feel this way – I certainly did as I transitioned into the site manager role. And I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t worry about it if I were to ever transition to a different company as well. This is why representation within the workplace is vital for employees. And this doesn’t stop with the LGBTQ+ community – representation is important to any marginalized community. Representation in the workplace, or even outspoken allies, can be a huge difference in making people feel welcome to bring their authentic self at work.
Deloitte discussed the concept of ‘Covering’ as “downplaying certain aspects of one’s identities,” and continued to share that, of the over 3,000 respondents to their survey that reported to have engaged in covering, 83% of them were part of the LGBTQ+ community. When employees feel they need to Cover themselves in the workplace, it is inevitable that the organization is also being negatively affected. For anyone who is interested in growing their career, it is important that they can see themselves in the roles they aspire to achieve.
Covering may always be a struggle in the workplace, however, it’s important to lean into that uncomfortable feeling and bring your authentic self to work each day – you owe that to yourself and your employer. I’ve focused on creating an Inclusive, Diverse, and Equitable workplace for everyone.
Currently, I am the Senior Marketing Manager and Marketing Lead for the U.S. and am also the Co-Founder and Co-Lead of the Pride Employee Resource group (LGBTQ+ ERG) within my organisation. As companies continue to focus on Diversity and Inclusion, it’s important that we continue to raise the topics and build the environments necessary to create change and positively impact LGBTQ+ Representation in the workplace. Our ERG has brought in lived experience speakers from The Speakers Collective, to stimulate discussion at learning sessions.
Representation is key so that everyone can bring their authentic self to work each and every day.
If you are reading this as an employee, at any level of an organization, know that you can provide representation to others. If you are reading this as an employer or manager, know that the environment you create for your teams sets the tone. If you are unsure where to start, reach out to your team to identify ways to cultivate a more inclusive and equitable environment.
Donald is the Co-Founder and America’s Chapter Lead of ConvaTec’s Pride Employee Resource Group (LGBTQ+ ERG), focusing on diverse hiring, company insights, and professional development. Donald has partnered with HR leaders to identify and develop employee resources for LGBTQ+ community and allies. He is also a key contributor and leading the creation of a Professional Development/Mentorship program for the LGBTQ+ Community at ConvaTec. Having launched ConvaTec's first ever Pride Month, Donald has also collaborated with ERG Leads in creating an Educational/Awareness Content calendar, focusing on recurring cadence of LGBTQ+ topics. He collaborated with Senior Leadership on raising awareness around D&I metrics and how they can continue hiring and retaining a diverse workforce. Donald is also founding member of ConvaTec's Black Employee Network and Women at ConvaTec ERGs. He has fundraised for Sisu Youth Services and collaborated with local up-and-coming government leaders on how to foster a diverse and inclusive community.