Sometimes you have to stop and appreciate the abundance. When I do this, I notice and am grateful for the moment I’ve landed in, in history and society, in business, as a professional, and as a person. I am an out LGBT business owner. With the help of a great team, we have the privilege of providing guidance to large corporations about a timely and urgent topic in 2013, which is also near to my heart: diversity, and how to create more inclusive workplaces — where people can bring their whole selves to work, every day.
This is a deeply personal topic for me, too, as this wasn’t the case for me at times, and isn’t the case for many, today. I have dedicated my company and my work towards healing my own experience, and that of others, as well as paving a better way for the next generation.
I have worked to find my voice – literally and figuratively – throughout my life. A performing artist by nature and training, I experienced chronic injury to my vocal chords during my operative training 10 years ago, resulting in surgeries and a weakened instrument that I knew wouldn’t be able to sustain a performance career. Although terrifying, the act of searching and seeking a different value proposition has clarified my understanding of what I am here to do – which is to use my strength, born in me and forged in experience, to enable the voice to others. The heartbreak was a gift.
For all people, it is terrifying to lose your instrument, and the means to express your story. It is deeply human, the craving to be heard, authentically – to tell your truth. What began as a “why, me” moment in my life led me to realize I needed to use my voice to tell my whole truth, and in a different way. I was meant to utilize my voice, just not as a singer.
What surprised me is how incorporating my LGBT identity into my business journey would become such a key to my success as a business owner and leader, and as a brand. There is power in looking at things in a different way, perhaps from the outside, deriving insights from the ability to navigate hardship and prevail through positivity, courage and trust. And these are just some of the unique skillsets that many in the LGBT community bring to their lives, and to the workplace. In fact, this is exactly what business needs today, and in the coming years, as companies try to “think outside the box”, manage unpredictable markets, and maintain or build reputations of integrity and transparency in a boundary-less world. The case for diverse talent has never been stronger.
And the case for diverse-owned businesses has been building, as well, with major corporations paying attention to their supplier base and questioning the lack of diversity they see. They are beginning to understand that investing in companies founded and run by those who have been historically outside, and perhaps “scrappier” and more resourceful than most, might just be a great source of innovative ideas and perspectives – not to mention as a tangible way to not only give back to communities, but invest in them and their economic viability. We are proud to be certified as LGBT-owned by the NGLCC.
All of this should serve to encourage more and more in the LGBT community to be “out” at work, and yet, studies show that nearly 50% in today’s workplace choose to remain closeted. The cost to the individual, and to the company, is staggering. Consider the energy it takes to withhold a critical piece of yourself at work, and where that energy could be re-allocated towards career and networking building, to name a few critical activities. In this process, employers miss out on these employees’ full contributions – or may lose the employee entirely to a more inclusive employer. And word travels fast about workplace culture, and where it is “safe” to be who you are. If you are a company targeting the nearly $700 billion buying power of the LGBT community, this is not market-building behavior.
But the most critical piece in all of this is that we need more voices. We still lack enough “out” role models in business. Ask yourself, what positive role has being LGBT or an ally played in who you are today? At work, have you crystalized this and incorporated it into your leadership story? You never know how it will resonate with others, or create the perception of safety around you in the workplace, and draw people to you. What are you holding back that you think is irrelevant, but may be powerful to others? There is a lesson in this for all of us, gay or straight, that leaving our richness and color at the door Monday morning hurts all of us, and the businesses in which we work.
So cherish that voice; it is a gift, and can be powerful beyond measure. Use it with pride.