Phone Mail Arrow Right Arrow Left Calendar Chevron Right
Why is coming out at work necessary at all?

I have often been asked this question by liberal, progressive people. It's not a problem, and it's your business,' was their logic. People who live according to the majority don't know the need to define and classify themselves. If you are different, you are constantly confronted with it: For example, when I tell about the vacation and I am asked 'Were you there with your girlfriend?', about the weekend 'With whom were you out?', or when it is said in a circle of men about a company event: 'In the evening it is then with women'. In my eyes, all this has nothing to do with discrimination. What was missing and is sometimes still missing today are other role models in the company, other life plans.

Coming out is not so important for the majority, but it is for those who do. No one wants to spend eight hours a day splitting off a part of their identity. And yet, for me, it took three employers three years before I openly admitted to living differently, and there are several reasons for that. It has not been the fault of my employers, but primarily my own hurdle in my head, and yet it can be easier in the future.

'Just say it!'

That's what I kept saying to myself before my first professional coming out. The point of my story is that I was in relationships with women for many years and didn't meet my boyfriend and now partner until 2010. That means I had a 180-degree turnaround to deal with in the middle of my professional life, personally and in my personal life. Even when I moved to a very modern company two years after that personal turnaround, I wasn't ready to communicate at first. At some point, I felt I had missed the point.

Three years later, I again accepted a position in another company. My environment there didn't feel like the right biotope for coming out - and I don't blame my employer for that. It's like this: When the environment is very homogeneous, when everyone is married and has kids, coming out means you stand out, you're special. You're not the one other, you're the only other. You know that about teenagers, that at a certain age they just want to immerse themselves in their peer group, not stand out and not stand out. I think with adults that's often still the case. Being different in a certain area means attention, being the topic of conversation, answering lots of questions, explicit and implicit. Some people can and want to do that and do it. I didn't want that at first. Today I think: Especially in very homogeneous environments, coming out is needed, role models who are different are needed.

When I finally changed jobs again in 2018, all the variables were right for me: I was ready myself and encountered an environment full of very different characters.

Working against the statistical miracle

Every story is different, everyone handles coming out differently. I was a different type than a former colleague of mine who came out earlier, personally and professionally. Like him, I am convinced: we need more coming out. That's the only way to create a realistic image in companies. When the English professional soccer player Jake Daniels publicly admitted his homosexuality this year, asked '80 to 120 players in the first to third Bundesliga are gay, isn't it strange that we don't know a single one of them?' The medium had broken down statistical estimates of the proportion of homosexuality in the population to the Bundesliga.

The reality is not much different in very masculine industries away from big cities and CSD trucks. If a company - like currently a medical service provider - is looking for a 'managing director', an 'energetic doer with boyish curiosity', I am sure the employer (who will be male) has no idea how many male candidates he thereby unconsciously excludes (he does consciously exclude women).

Rainbow flags, small steps and consequences.

I was pleased to see that my former employer supported the CSD this year and I briefly thought 'If I had stayed there, I could have gone along with this step.' But it doesn't have to be the CSD commitment at all, small steps are enough. It helps to allow a certain 'nerd-ness' in the company, so that idiosyncrasies don't have to be hidden behind a professional facade. Allowing an open, safe environment is also an executive-level decision. Discrimination in cooperation with customers against minorities, I fortunately experience only very rarely. What we do experience frequently, however, is ageism, i.e. that a manager should not be older than 35. In such cases, it is important to take a clear stand and, if necessary, to end the collaboration.

About the author

Dr. Sebastian Tschentscher finds the best digital minds for your company with his executive search boutique "Digital Minds".

Contact us!