There are millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) job seekers struggling to find careers due in part because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. While the workplace is progressing, queer employees continue to be discriminated against. As a student transitioning from academia to the workplace you may be surprised to learn some of the challenges and problems queer individuals have faced. Most academic environments pride themselves on being LGBTQ inclusive. You may feel safe being and expressing who you are in such an environment. The workplace is not academia and being educated and prepared is imperative when looking for an internship or job. This article outlines four easy tips that can help you make better informed decisions and excel professionally; know yourself, know the organization, know the law, know your options.
Know yourself. Self-assessment is a great place to start when looking for an internship of job, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Take the opportunity to think about your skills, abilities, and values. How have these been impacted by your sexual orientation/ gender identity? For example, do you value a diverse workforce? This may have been influenced by the fact that as an individual that identifies as LGBTQ, you place high importance on equality and multiculturalism. Do you have the ability to quickly adapt to different environments? This could be as a result of the need to fit into different queer inclusive and non-queer inclusive situations you have experienced personally. Also consider if you will only apply to organizations that have LGBTQ-inclusive policies/ benefits and supports the LGBTQ community through philanthropic efforts; or are you willing to work for any organization regardless of having such policies and benefits? If so, will you act as a change agent within the organization or work within the status quo? Thinking about and answering these questions can help narrow the organizational search in your overall internship/job strategy.
Know the organization. Is the organization you want to intern or work at LGBTQ-inclusive? You can do some investigating. You can often find most of this information on the organization's website and/or in the job posting. First, review the organization's employment non-discrimination policy. Does it include sexual orientation and gender identity? Does the organization offer domestic partner benefits? Are they included on any LGBTQ best places to work lists? Does the organization have an LGBTQ employee resource group (ERG)? These are just a sample of the questions to use in your search. Affirmative answers to these questions would indicate that the organization is committed to diversity, including LGBTQ employees. Another way to know if the organization is LGBTQ-inclusive is to find current employees and ask them about the office vibe. Do they know other out and open employees? Have they ever heard of any LGBTQ employees being harassed or called derogatory names? If you don't know anyone at the organization, try connecting to somebody at a networking event or on a professional social networking website such as LinkedIn.
Know the law. Due to the fact that the US Congress has not passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) since it was first introduced in 1994, selected States and municipalities have incorporated their own policies. ENDA would prohibit employment discrimination at all levels; hiring, promotion, compensation, etc. based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity at the federal level. It should be noted that ENDA is a base law, which means it does not provide special rights to LGBTQ individuals in the workplace; it only levels the playing field. Currently only California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington have laws that prohibit based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is recommended that you investigate the local and state laws in which you work. Knowing if the state offers non-discrimination protection can help you if you feel that you have been discriminated because of your sexual orientation or gender identity during the hiring or on-boarding process.
Know your options. Being out and open in the workplace is your choice. Your decision may be impacted by where you are in your queer identity formation personally. Just as you may only be out to a selected group of friends or family members, you may decide only to share this information with only other colleagues in your team and your direct supervisor. Or you may decide to be out to everyone. Why is your sexual orientation or gender identity a part of the work environment? Consider the fact that most employees spend a majority of their waking hours at work and form strong bonds with colleagues. A simple question such as 'what did you do over the weekend' can open the door to discussion. Or putting a picture of a significant other on your desk can identify you as a queer employee. If you do decide to come out, there's no need to march in with a rainbow flag, you may want to make a more natural approach. If you choose not to come out, it is suggested that you make a conscious decision not to let it hinder your exchange with others or participation in informal networking and meetings. Isolation can cause relationships between colleagues to not form to their fullest. In addition, productivity and self-worth could be impacted negatively if a prolonged period of isolation occurs.
You are a proud, independent LGBTQ person with an outstanding career ahead of you. Applying these tips will help you choose an organization wisely and allow you to be the best intern or employee you can be. Your sexual orientation or gender identity may affect how people treat you in the workplace, but if you are true to yourself, you can smash through the discrimination and prejudges some people still hold. Additional resources can be found in "Your Queer Career: The Ultimate Career Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Job Seekers".