Your decision to ‘come out’ should always be on your terms. But it might not be that simple. Contrary to what people outside of the LGBTIQ community believe, if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer you don’t just ‘come out’ once in life, it’s a lifelong process. Every ‘coming out’ experience is deeply personal and often unique. Building close meaningful relationships with people, both professionally and personally, often inevitably requires some level of disclosure. Most of this is indirect, when we start to feel more comfortable talking about our partners or other interests which might reveal our sexuality or gender identity.
In Australia, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you based on your sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status. All employers have a legal responsibility to be aware of their obligations. Employers should never ask you any questions which reveal these characteristics. However, the challenge we face as LGBTIQ people during the recruitment process is realised once you remember it’s a two-sided process.
After you define your offering (talent, skills, qualifications, enthusiasm) and match it to the requirements of an advertised position, you then must determine if it’s the kind of workplace you want to join based on their offering (culture, values, salary, benefits). You’re picking them as much as they’re picking you. After all, we’re actively encouraged to assess ‘cultural fit’ both before and during the recruitment process. As I discussed in How to choose a LGBTIQ friendly workplace most of the discovery process to make an informed choice requires asking direct questions to recruiters or current employees.
Unfortunately, our questions reveal more about us than we’d probably like. When a person asks if a workplace offers paid parental leave or flexible working hours around school times, this indirectly informs the employer that the candidate is looking for an employer which will support their decision to have children. This form of indirect disclosure is the same as when an LGBTIQ person might ask about workplace inclusion. Perhaps the question is focused on the existence of LGBTIQ networks or gender-neutral bathroom policies. Whatever it is, it is only human nature for the employer to infer from this. This leads you to question whether you should indirectly disclose? This decision is a deeply personal decision, but I wanted to put forward these thoughts:
Being your authentic self makes you feel more comfortable. Having already confirmed that the employer is inclusive in a preliminary discussion, such as with a graduate recruiter, means that you are more comfortable in your subsequent interviews which will hopefully allow you to focus on your unique offering.
Chances are you will be interviewing with your line manager (i.e. the person you directly report to at work). Asking them questions about the inclusiveness of the team such as whether they participate in Wear it Purple Day will let you know whether you feel comfortable being your authentic self within the team from day one, allowing you to perform at your best. Here is a great article which talks about the effects of going back into the closet at work from a team member at PwC.
Perhaps you’re further along the journey of self-acceptance. You’re quite comfortable being ‘out’. Awesome! But not everyone is. People make mistakes, even interviewers. They might never have interviewed an LGBTIQ person before and responded poorly to certain lines of questioning. The interviewer or graduate recruiter will be better prepared next time.
As a recent research exercise at my university career fair, I went around to almost every employer and told them I wanted to learn a bit more about their workplace culture and asked them how they supported LGBTIQ employees. It was very clear, early on, that not every recruiter was prepared for this line of questioning. And yes, it was a little bit awkward. But I learnt more about the organisation than I would have any other way. For ideas on questions to ask a graduate recruiter on LGBTIQ inclusion, check out our article at GradAustralia.
It’s unlawful in Australia to discriminate against candidates based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status among other things. But I am not going to sugar-coat it, discrimination still exists. It sucks. If you feel you have been discriminated against in the recruitment process you can make a complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
So, let’s say you’ve decided that you want to disclose early-on during the recruitment process. It’s important to you. But saying, ‘Hi I’m Nathaniel and I am Gay’ is probably a bit too forward and I’d argue it’s probably not appropriate. However, asking questions that indirectly discloses your sexuality or gender identity is appropriate and lets you gather information which will help you make an informed decision.
In your resume, you might also showcase skills you learnt whilst volunteering for an LGBTIQ not-for-profit whilst at university, as another way of indirectly disclosing your sexuality or gender identity. You might even respond in part to a question about ‘why you want to work for the organisation’, that their commitment to diversity and inclusion let you know that it was an organisation where you could thrive and that finding a team where you felt accepted was important to you. This also demonstrates that you have researched the organisation.
At the end of the day, however you do it, ‘coming out’ in the recruitment process should only ever be on your terms. I recognise that this discretion is more of a privilege for cis-passing or straight-passing members of the LGBTIQ community and that not everyone has the same level of discretion. Having an LGBTIQ mentor who has a shared experience with your circumstances will be able to offer more tailored advice and support you through your own journey. For more information about LGBTIQ mentors, read our article on the value of an LGBTIQ mentor and how to find one.
Nathaniel is a Juris Doctor student at Macquarie University who volunteers with Out for Australia, a national not-for-profit helping LGBTIQ students and young professionals navigate the early stages of their careers. Personal pronouns: he, his, him.