Ten Acts to Support Your Employees When They Come Out
After coming out as a transgender woman to my family, my colleagues, and then the public in January, I’ve had some time to reflect on the responses I’ve received – both positive and negative – as well as the inquiries I’ve received on how employers can best support employees coming out.
We’re in challenging times, where lawmakers in the US and abroad have proposed legislation to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people for everything from adoption and family planning to healthcare access (see Florida’s bill, aka “Don’t Say Gay” ). Unsurprisingly, employees and employers are anxious about how to engage in conversations about LGBTQ+ support in the workplace.
As employers look to navigate a personal employee journey in the professional world, there are many ways to offer your support as an individual colleague and contribute to your workplace culture.
Here are ten ways that you can support your colleagues when they inform you that they are preparing to come out:
1. Say Congratulations
Few people realize that coming out is something to be celebrating truly. Sharing your immediate congratulations that they’re taking this journey is the first thing to do, without a doubt. And it would be best if you also let your employees know they’re safe and accepted. This is the foundation for all of the conversation that comes next.
2. Ask for Their Pronouns
You can phrase this: “What pronouns would you like me to use?” Using a transgender person’s correct pronouns is one of the easiest ways to be a gender-affirming ally. One note is that pronouns are no longer considered “preferred,” which implies that using the correct ones is optional. Instead, it’s just “your pronouns.”
3. Ask for Their Name
Your employee may be changing their name as part of their transition, so it’s best to ask: “What name would you like me to use?” Much like using the correct pronouns, using a trans person’s proper name is crucial. Calling them by the old name (or their “dead name” as it is called in the trans community) will likely result in a negative response from the person. If you accidentally use the incorrect name or pronouns, apologize immediately and move on. No need to dwell on the mistake!
4. Ask if This Is Public Information
You might be the first person they’ve told in a professional setting, so you’ll want to ask if they’ve shared this news with other colleagues. If this is still private information, you will want to ask if you should address them by their new pronoun and name in professional channels or wait until later (ex., company Slack or Discord channel, emails, and meetings).
You will also want to ask how you can best support them in coming out to their colleagues. Ask if they like your support to come out to the company in an announcement, in a meeting, or individually to colleagues. Ask if they have any concerns about coming out in the workplace so that you can help address them.
5. Ask if You Can Share in Company or Social Media
With companies embracing corporate blogs or social media channels to highlight the contributions of great employees, it’s essential to be sure that how you address your employee through these channels publicly aligns with their readiness because the employee may not have fully come out to family and friends yet. You want to avoid accidentally outing your employee on communication or social media channels like LinkedIn, Slack, and Discord before they are ready.
6. Ask if They Need Time Off
Coming out is a significant life event. Depending on how your employee’s family, friends, and colleagues respond to this news, they may need time to emotionally process everything happening in their life. See how you can best support them at this time.
7. Ensure You Address Company Facilities
Do you have gender-neutral bathrooms that your employee may need? Ask your employee if they have the facilities they need and if they have any concerns about facility access.
8. What if They’re Concerned About the Company Culture?
Someone recently reached out to me because the head of the company posted anti-trans rhetoric publicly on social media. One of their employees reached out to this person expressing deep concerns about their ability to be supported in the company. While there is no one simple answer to help navigate this complicated situation, I recommend coordinating with leadership to make a public statement of their support internally and externally for LGBTQ+ employees and the community. You can do this through internal channels and the corporate blog of social profiles. It’s essential to set a precedent for how you will support your LGBTQ+ employees and lead by example.
9. Help Your Employee Update their Digital Corporate Profiles
If your employee is changing their name and pronouns, they should be updated wherever they appear in corporate communications. This can include their corporate email address, Slack name, and other administrative information like their W9.
10. Create an Open Channel Going Forward
Create a safe space for your employee and ensure they know that they can come to you with questions and concerns along their workplace transition journey. This is just the beginning, and there will be questions along the way, so knowing they have an ally in you is a beneficial start.
Your employees need you, and the above measures go a long way in creating a space for them to feel welcome and safe.
By Lilly Contino, Head of Business Development, Ryu Games
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