Workplace Inclusion – It’s Pride Month – What It Means To Me

Over my 15 years of professional experience, I have been in and out of the closet. I’m out now and I’m never going back! I started my career in finance, an industry that isn’t always gay friendly. I had a co-worker once tell another co-worker “Oh, Justin can’t be gay, he’s too normal. I’m sure this is just a phase, eventually he’ll meet a woman and settle down.”

Another time, early in my career, I was approached by my manager that she had received feedback I was “too open with my sexuality”. I was really taken off guard as I had never talked about my sexuality in a professional setting for fear of rejection in my conservative environment. I replied to her that if anyone had assumptions about my sexuality, it was due to their stereotypes and by nothing that I had ever explicitly said. For about a year after that, I was more conscious about who I shared anything with. Although I was brave in my response to my manager at the time, I was still afraid of being viewed as “too gay”. Needless to say, I didn’t reach my potential until I could bring my whole self to work without fear of being shamed. Half of that equation was confidence, and the other half was my co-workers who appreciated me for who I am, including my sexuality.

As someone passionate about creating an inclusive employee experience, I work to educate and elevate awareness around diversity and inclusion issues. A good friend recently reminded me that a diverse workforce is one that has different types of people represented at the table, but an inclusive workforce is one which considers and appreciates the views of everyone around that same table. It’s not just good enough for us to have more women, races, or lgbt folks represented at work. We must strive to have a workplace where all voices are considered, respected, and appreciated, even if they aren’t the loudest or look like the majority.

For me, Pride month is a time to celebrate everything that makes us unique while appreciating those differences in others. I can remember some of my first Pride celebrations as a time when all of my unique friends, regardless of social status, income, race, or gender expression, would come together and have just a genuinely good time. Over the years, I continued to learn the real meaning of Pride and our constant fight for equality. We may have it much better than our brothers and sisters in the Stonewall Riots era, but there are still factions of people fighting to take away the rights of anyone who is different from them.

In my spare time I’m involved with Chicago’s Center on Halsted along with other organizations in the area to continue advancing the rights of LGBT individuals, while providing them access to the support, development, and care that they may not get otherwise.

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