In a society where transparency is changing the very fabric of our culture—look no further than all of the recent media hoopla around Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to see just how impossible it is to keep secrets in the age of information—that by the time 2020 rolls around, being in the closet as a career tool will be as old school as a cell phone that’s well, just a cell phone. When I did research for my first book, Lavender Road to Success (Ten Speed Press/Crown) back in 2003, one of my most significant findings was that people in our community who were out of the closet were earning on average 50% more than their closeted peers. One caveat I should mention is that these people reporting higher salaries had placed themselves in inclusive workplaces where their sexual orientation was a non-issue—the number one key to why they were making more money.
So how does this recipe for success play out? When you are able to come to work as yourself, not only are you able to fully focus on your job without worrying about how you will hide what you did over the weekend or who you share your life with, you can begin to use all of your unique insights and abilities as a member of the GLBT community to bring added value to your professional role. For example, in The G Quotient(Wiley & Sons 2006), I found that the reason employees of gay executives in some of America’s largest and most prestigious companies were reporting higher levels of job engagement, satisfaction, and workplace morale compared to other employees is because their bosses had incorporated their personal identities into their leadership style. This resulted in environments that among other things exhibited more effective communication networks, better approaches to problem-solving, and increased teamwork and cohesiveness between colleagues.
For centuries, people have principally been glued together by shared qualitative and quantitative similarities such as religion, ethnicity, geography—even sexual orientation. Further, research studies from major universities all around the globe have shown that as human beings, we are in fact biologically wired to be afraid of the unknown. But today, in a society where we hold massive amounts of information in the palm of our hand, among other socio-cultural effects, it is turning the unknown into the known at astronomical rates. Therefore “sameness” as a behavioral driver is becoming less and less of a social commodity because there is less “unknown” to be afraid of.
What does this mean to our community in the world of work? Basically, more and more people are no longer afraid of difference. Why? Because included in all of that information that people are accessing 24 X 7 is a new worldview where knowledge about people that are different from ourselves is shrinking the divide of sameness. People with different religious and ethnic backgrounds, people from different regions around the country and world, and yes, with different sexual orientations are not quite as different as once imagined. It’s why you see a marked difference in the attitudes of those under the age of 30 for example about gay marriage than in those over the age of 65. Young people grew up with that a worldview where difference isn’t something to be feared because they grew up turning the unknown into the known. Therefore, I believe it is this underlying 21st socio-cultural force that will continue to make it possible for more gay people to come out in the workplace over this next decade.
While working on an update for a new release of Lavender Road to Success, the number of people who are out at work has dramatically increased since 2003 as well as the number of employers who recognize the power and value of diversity and inclusion. But interestingly, another finding hasn’t changed. Preliminary research indicates that closeted members of our community—whether working in inclusive environments and closeted by their own choice or working in environments where it truly isn’t safe for them to come out—are still making significantly lower salaries than those who are out within welcoming environments. The good news for all of our GLBT family members who are still not out at work is that they can be out and valued for what they bring to the professional table—today. They can find in 2011 and beyond, employers in their field that aren’t tied to a world of sameness where the fear of the unknown anchors them in bigotry and prejudice. Recognize that today you also have a nation of role models to look to for advice, support, and encouragement in order to place yourself in a job where you can thrive and focus on what’s really important—your success.
For more information about Kirk Snyder and his books, please visit www.kirksnyder.com