Do I Tell Them I'm Gay? Coming out in a Professional Work EnvironmentJordan Dahlheimer / Jun 19, 2019
It’s never easy walking into a new work environment. Will anyone have the same interests as you? Will they find your organization quirks strange? Will they question or pry into your sexual orientation? That last question isn’t something all of us have to deal with. It is however, a question that gets asked by countless LGBTQ+ identifying individuals when heading into a job interview or on the first day at a new company. This month, in celebration of PRIDE, Vangst is standing with those proud to be unapologetically themselves and working to create and fuel an all-inclusive cannabis industry. Senior Recruiter, Jordan Dahlheimer, tells his story and shares his advice on navigating the workforce as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Okay – You’re in the last semester of your undergrad and you’re thinking about what you want to do post-graduation. You send out application after application, hoping to score an interview with at least some of the companies. Then to your delight, the interview requests start coming in…what are your first thoughts?
What kind of questions should I ask? Do I look at their LinkedIn profiles? What should I wear?
I bet “Should I let them know I’m straight?” didn’t come to mind… That’s what I want to talk about – being gay in the professional workforce. I remember my last semester of college. I was graduating with a degree in Communications, which meant there were a lot of different jobs I could be qualified for. So I cast a wide net and sent out tons of applications. When I started getting interviews, I turned to a close family member with a lot of professional work experience for advice and I distinctly remember them telling me this: Not to let the employers I was interviewing with know I’m gay. At the time, I thought I understood the reasoning – that the professional workforce isn’t as progressive as the rest of society.
I took their advice in my interviews and tried to hide that I’m gay, which turned out to be very difficult. At the time I had a boyfriend and would use terms like significant other, they, them, etc. I never disclosed that those terms meant boyfriend. Going into a phone interview or onsite meeting with that mindset hindered my interview skills because the notion of acting “straight” was in the back of my mind.
I finally landed my first job. Surprisingly, in that interview process, I told them I was gay. I wasn’t planning on sharing, but they dug in deep during the interview and I couldn’t hide it anymore. I was rejected by the company twice before they sent an offer. I don’t know if being gay had anything to with the initial “won’t be moving forward with you”, but either way, through persistence I got the job.
During my first weeks on the job I was very quiet in a sales-driven office, which is high energy and filled with big personalities. I was trying to navigate how “gay” I should come off in the way I talk and how I present myself.
1-in-5 LGBTQ workers report having been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress in a more feminine or masculine manner. – Human Rights Campaign
I was the only openly gay person in the office at the time and the company was still hanging on to that 80/90s work culture – and I didn’t want to rub anyone the wrong way. There were moments of severe awkwardness… I remember being in a conversation with coworkers and the word f*ggot was casually peppered in. I immediately locked up, nervously laughed and brushed it off as if nothing happened because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable – which I now know was only hurting the issue.
**53% of LGBTQ workers report hearing jokes about lesbian or gay people at least once. **– Human Rights Campaign
I’ve come a long way from my first year in the workforce; I managed to start the first Pride celebration in Minneapolis and continued to play a role in the LGBTQ+ employee resource group. I eventually grew out of the advice that family member gave me early on in interviewing while looking for different jobs. Ultimately it comes down to not wanting to work for a company that can’t accept my lifestyle. I don’t want to hide being gay to employers, family, friends, or anyone for that matter, because at the end of the day if they can’t love me for me, they’re probably not worth my time.
I used this mindset when interviewing with Vangst, I openly shared my true self with everyone throughout the process. Now I know I’m in an environment that’s accepting, and I don’t have to be afraid of being “too gay”. Thank you to everyone at Vangst for making my time here so great and for allowing me to thrive. To hear more about my story, check out the latest episode of Seed to Sound featuring my friend, Shon Williams, Chief Development Officer at Westleaf. Shon’s story of being accepted by his Westleaf team from day one should give us all hope for the future of this industry.
Advice to anyone in the LGBTQ+ community – when looking for a job, just be your beautiful self. You’ve come a long way to get to this point of being comfortable enough being “out.” Don’t let a new job throw you back in the closet!
Advice to employers looking to hire a diverse pool of candidates – I highly recommend starting the conversation early. Your openness with different backgrounds and cultures will put the “hiding” interviewee at ease and allow them to show their true colors. And lastly, to all of our allies out there, if you hear derogatory terms (whether you’re around people in the LGBTQ community or not) call it out. It means a lot to those in the community when our straight allies speak up.
To support the LGBTQ+ community, we recommend checking out the following organizations:
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