- November 3, 2014
Today I joined NPR Boston's 'On Point with Tom Ashbrook' to discuss Tim Cook's powerful coming out essay. I'm pretty sure that with the continued press and attention to this event, it's fodder for Monday morning chitchat at workplaces across the country.
Roughly half of all LGBT workers will likely feel compelled to duck conversations today, to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity from coworkers for fear of being out. In our recent national study, The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion we found that despite the myriad legal and social advances for the LGBT community of late, 53 percent of LGBT workers feel they need to hide who they are while on the job.
Like Tim Cook, LGBT workers want to be known for their skills, dedication and more - not solely, stereotypically as the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender employee. The top reasons cited for not being out speak to LGBT people's fears of diminishing connections with coworkers or opportunities for advancement.
Even though a majority of the Fortune 500 offers protections for LGBT employees as do a number of municipalities, the overall national landscape is still a patchwork of gaping holes on basic employment protections for LGBT people. Currently, 29 states lack explicit protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 34 states on gender identity.
Coming out is a daily experience, not just one moment in time. The average American workplace, according to both LGBT and non-LGBT workers in our representative sample, is full of weekly and daily conversations about family, social lives and more. Put simply, we get to know one another at work. And if you have to hide who you are, it takes a significant toll on your engagement with your work. On average, the closet and unwelcoming environments cost workplaces roughly 30 percent in employee engagement.
But momentum is on the side of equality. Tim Cook's public affirmation last week that he's an engineer, a sports fan, the CEO of one of the world's most prominent companies, and oh yes, gay, too is the declaration many in the LGBT community needed to hear. But perhaps even more importantly, many people who don't identify as LGBT have another example of the ideal many of us are striving for - the ability to bring our skills, smarts, interests and more to the table, and oh yeah, we are LGBT, too.