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LGBT+ in the Workplace: Career Advice From Georgia Tech Scheller Alums

Hiring policies have been slowly changing in the workplace for LGBT+ employees for years. As recent as 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that firing workers because of their sexual orientation or transgender status violates Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination because of sex.

Still, some LGBT+ students and alumni may find themselves facing employer discrimination, and some may face challenges over whether to come out to their employer and colleagues.

How should LGBT+ identifying professionals navigate their career choices while staying true to their identities? How do they recognize which organizations honor and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion? What should they do if they face a hostile work environment at some point in their careers?

We interviewed Georgia Tech Scheller graduates Lisa Favors (Executive MBA ’20) and Carter Hebert (BSBA ’22) to get their advice. Here’s what they had to say. 

What is the best way to find and build community in or outside the LGBT+ community at school and in the workplace?

Favors: At work, seek out and join employee resource groups (ERGs) that interest you. At EY, we have several ERGs, including Unity (LGBTQ) Network, AccessAbilities, Black Professional Network, Ethnicity Network, Inclusiveness Council, Latinx Professional Network, Pan Asia Professional Network, Professional Women’s Network, and the Veterans Network, to name a few.

At school, seek out and join groups or organizations that share your interest. Every person you meet helps to expand your network.

Hebert: I think, as is true with building any community, it requires one to put themselves out there and proactively search for people with the same mindset and values that you hold. I know, especially today, it can be extremely nerve-wracking to publicly display your morals, but I think it’s necessary in order to find those that you connect with.

On that same note, I think online groups really made building and connecting communities a lot more accessible for people. In the past, there were a lot of barriers present - think geographic location, methods of communication, personal hesitations, etc. And although some of those may still be present today, online forums provide a safer space to at least start.

How do I identify a company that is LGBT+-friendly?

Favors: Search the company’s site for information or statements of their views on LGBT+ issues or concerns. Ask the following questions: Does the company’s mission statement include words that imply they are diverse and inclusive? Is the company on the Corporate Equality Index 2022 of the Human Rights Campaign? Does the company have specific diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in place? Has the company been outspoken on DEI issues and concerns over the past decade? Does the company partner with LGBT+ friendly organizations such as Lesbians Who Tech, GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Trevor Project, etc.? Is there diversity in the leadership of the organization? Is it a local, regional or global company? It’s been my experience that if the company is global, there is a better chance that it’s inclusive.

Hebert: Truthfully, it comes from doing the research and talking with the necessary people. Conducting research on the company is crucial in understanding their morals, e.g., their political affiliations and the kinds of charities they donate to. Are they doing anything to actively oppose anti-LGBT+ legislations?

Looking into hard-hitting topics like that can provide a lot of insight. Talk with current employees at the company, especially those that identify as LGBT+, and ask them what their experience has been like and if they feel their company truly supports them both professionally and personally. I’d also look for LGBT+ employees in higher management positions. That, for me, is a great sign that the company is fostering an inclusive environment for ALL employees. 

What should I consider before applying to any company?

Favors: Read company reviews and try to determine if the company will celebrate and not just tolerate you. If you work for this company, can you be your authentic self? Does the company value what you will bring to their environment and is the company culture positive? Do they value work-life balance?

Hebert: You must know what you value the most. You must understand what it is that you want to give to a company in addition to what you want them to give you. Then look for companies that directly align with your values. There are so many companies today, all with different value systems, so the probability that you find companies that align with your beliefs is extremely high. Don’t feel like you have to align your values with those of your friends or members of any community that you are a part of. These values are personal to you, and if they make you happy, don’t let anyone try to change them.

Do you have any advice around "coming out" to an employer?

Favors: Proceed at your own pace. It will be helpful to have a village of people you can trust who will support you. Look for advocates and allies at your company who will embrace and celebrate you and perhaps come out to them first to build your village of support.

Hebert: In my honest opinion, I don’t think anyone should have to “come out” to anyone, especially their employer. One’s sexual orientation or gender identity is completely independent of their ability to do work. If they are getting their work done and providing value to their company, then there is no reason you should have to disclose information about your sexuality/gender.

However, if you feel that “coming out” is crucial for you to be your authentic self, then do so. You have the freedom and right to be who you want to be, and if a company doesn’t accept that, then they aren’t the right fit for you anyways.

If I do encounter discrimination in the workplace, do you have any advice on how to best handle it?

Favors: Tell someone you trust, especially if you fear retribution. Don’t confront the perpetrator(s). Document exactly what happened so you’ll have the details if needed in the future, and contact HR. If you don’t feel comfortable revealing your identity, contact HR anonymously.

Hebert: Personally, I have had great luck in that I have never faced discrimination in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist for others. One of the best pieces of advice that I have received, though, is that if I ever feel discriminated against, I should not let it get to me. I should be proud of who I am and be confident in my abilities. If others can’t see me for me, and the value I am able to bring to any situation, then I will simply leave (if I am able to do so). If a company doesn’t value you, then they have no right to your knowledge and skill set, so it means it’s time to take your skills elsewhere.

Are there any perspectives or advice you want to share with advocates and allies?

Favors: Make sure your support is visible since silent or invisible advocates and allies don’t help us build a better world.

Hebert: There is so much advice I could give advocates and allies, but I will just suggest two pieces of advice.

First, when you identify as an advocate or an ally, that means you are a supporter of the LGBT+ community and ALL its members. Simply saying you are a supporter, though, means nothing until your actions follow suit. This means that you should be there for members of the community and show them that you are a friend. Let them figure themselves out in their own time and without judgment, but once they are willing to accept it, show them they are special, and that they have value like everyone else in this world. Stick up for them in times of need and distress, as they may not have anyone else there to support and fight for them.

Second, be patient. Each member of the LGBT+ community goes through a different journey to discover who they are, with some journeys being much longer than others. Rushing anyone into anything may harm them and their ability to trust. So please, be patient with everyone. They will appreciate it more than you know.

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