A recent study conducted by the Human Rights Campaign showed that approximately one-half of all LGBTQ+ workers remain closeted at their place of work. This may come as a surprise considering the progress that has been made in the LGBTQ+ community over the last decade. Our country has legalized gay marriage, enacted federal protections from workplace discrimination for LGBTQ+ workers, and just recently saw an openly gay man come close to securing a presidential nomination. Although these are monumental achievements, the fact that such an overwhelming percentage of LGBTQ+ workers remain closeted comes as no surprise to me as I reflect on my own personal experience with coming out at work.
Like most in the LGBTQ+ community, I struggled with my own sexual identity. For years. It was not until after college that I finally learned to accept the fact that being gay was part of my being and would be with me for the long-haul. Though difficult to come to terms with, it was ultimately a burden relieved. After first accepting myself, I took the next big step and embraced my friends and family, who for the most part offered me nothing but love and support. I had finally “come out” and felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. However, I quickly realized that this was not the end of my coming out. It is a never-ending process and something I would have to do time and time again for the rest of my life.
The often-overlooked part of the coming out experience is that it extends well beyond one’s personal life. Eight years ago, I started my career in commercial real estate with tremendous gratitude for the opportunity in front of me and an eagerness to make my mark. As I began to forge relationships with my superiors, coworkers, and clients, the heteronormative culture that undoubtedly exists in our industry became all too apparent to me. I was used to this, however. I had grown up in the south and attended a very conservative high school and college. So, as I had for many years before, I found my own ways of cultivating connections while remaining steadfast in hiding my sexual identity.
I was convinced that exposing my true self might only deter, if not derail, my career. I was determined to have my performance, and my performance alone, be the deciding factor of my success. I did not want to be treated any differently at work solely because I was gay. As you can probably imagine, this was an exhausting period for me, but in my mind, it was worth the extra work in order to secure my job and subsequent growth.
As was ultimately inevitable over time, my being gay was eventually made known to those at work, many of whom I had worked with since the start of my career. To my surprise, it was actually no big shock to most. Not only that, my preconceived notions of how people would react were completely off the mark. All the angst and fear that came along with keeping my two worlds separate for nearly a decade, seemed to be for nothing. I found myself met with full and wholehearted acceptance, support, and encouragement. I would encourage everyone reading this to offer only the same if ever faced with a similar situation with one of your peers. A collectively progressive and inclusive mindset is pivotal to improving the landscape of our workplace and will help W&D continue to stand out as a true leader in our industry.
I recognize how fortunate I am that my coming out journey has been a positive one and I am eternally grateful to many of you reading this who have directly contributed to that. You know who you are. I profoundly believe that being out in my professional life has had a positive impact on my career and most of all, it has exponentially strengthened my working relationships. To those out there that may be experiencing a struggle to the likes of mine, know that you are not alone, and that W&D is here to help you through it.
I am also pleased to announce that we have launched an Employee Resource Group for LGBTQ+ employees. I look forward to seeing the involvement and sense of community among our LGBTQ+ employees and allies.