SELF HELP RESOURCE - Work / Workplace Relationships


Vaibhav and Sunil, both 26 years old were working together in their organization and knew each other since their training days. Vaibhav one day decided to confide in Sunil and told him that he was gay. Sunil was shocked and upset as he had been brought up in an environment where “gay” was a word used only to mock at or insult others. He immediately began distancing himself from Vaibhav, but was also experiencing a lot of guilt as he knew that he was hurting his close friend.

You may have come to know about an LGBT colleague, either because the person confided in you or because others have spoken about it. Some people are able to accept this information in a calm, matter-of-fact way, but for others it can create a whole range of reactions, especially if this is the first such experience.
Some of the initial reactions you may experience when you come to know are:

-    Shock and disbelief: You may initially find it hard to believe that this person could be LGBT.
-    Your own doubts and questions: You may be wondering how long they have known for themselves, and why they are only disclosing it now. Or why they even needed to disclose it.
-    Acceptance: You might be someone who has experienced this before and are open and accepting of orientations other than yours.
-    Awkwardness / discomfort: You might be wondering how to behave with them now and may also change the way you interact with them.

Remember, just as you are going through this discomfort, your LGBT colleagues are probably going through even more stress. They are probably worried about others’ reactions, and wondering if they will be judged or the subject of jokes and gossip. Also they would be concerned about the impact on their working relationships and any possible effect on their career. So it is really important that you respond carefully and thoughtfully.
Some statements that we might make unintentionally can be insensitive and inappropriate. It is important to remember that we are working in a professional environment and all the same expectations of appropriate behavior still apply.

Some of the things you can do as a colleague are:

-    If your LGBT colleague has confided in you, then they have seen a supportive ally in you. It would be ideal if you can approach the news with openness, sensitivity and maintain confidentiality.
-    Be supportive, and accepting. You can show your support by being there for them when they need to talk, and listening without making judgements or giving unsolicited advice.
-    Once you have got over the initial awkwardness, just focus on being yourself, and try not to let this new piece of information affect your already existing work relationship. Remember a person’s sexual orientation is only one aspect of the person – he / she is still the same person, and you can relate just as you did before.
-    Be aware of your own prejudices and biases. Try not to allow them to get in the way of a healthy work environment. Do seek the support of a counselor if you feel the need to discuss your own perceptions regarding this.

  What to avoid saying/doing if your LGBT colleague has disclosed to you:

-    Showing judgments and stereotypes, for example saying “I always knew you were gay”
-    Statements such as “I am sorry to hear that” should be avoided. There is no reason for you to feel sad or sorry for someone’s sexual orientation.
-    Sexual questions and comments are always off-limits at the workplace and this is no different a situation. Even if it is said with curiosity/concern; such as “Are you sure? Have you ever had sex with the opposite gender?”
-    Avoiding jokes and participating in gossip. In fact you can also promote openness and acceptance

According to a leading charity organization working for LGBT equality “concealing sexual orientation at work reduces productivity by up to 30 per cent.” Hence, it is essential that managers and leaders themselves play a role in ensuring that LGBT employees feel safe to embrace and talk about their orientation at the workplace. Let us look at another example;

40 year old Neha was a manager at a multinational organization. One of her team members revealed to the entire team that she was a lesbian. Initially, Neha was taken aback upon hearing the news but eventually reflected on her prejudices and decided to be supportive. She was determined not to come across as a biased manager. She ended up spending a lot of time with the employee and constantly rated her very high. This led to a lot of discontentment and complaints from the other employees.

If you are a manager, especially do keep the following aspects in mind:

-    Working on accepting the person and treating him/her like everyone else.
-    Offer the same opportunities to learn and grow like any other employee.
-    Make sure that your personal stereotypes/biases do not affect any kind of reviews/appraisals done. Remember that showing favouritism towards the person is also a type of bias and is not acceptable either, and nor is it helpful. What is important is being fair.

A person’s job is considered a part of an individual’s identity, and the workplace environment plays an important role in ensuring that one’s self-esteem remains positive and healthy. 

Do remember that being accepting or supporting of your LGBT colleague isn’t a special or unusual exception that you are making. Equality, sensitivity and fairness are part and parcel of any environment and especially so in a professional working environment.

Latest Comments

poojarajasekharan on 15 Jun 2021, 21:38 PM

The article is simple and powerful. I especially loved how it is highlighted that equality is supposed to be the norm.

vidushir on 02 Jun 2021, 12:36 PM

I really enjoyed reading this article. I appreciate how well-written it is and how it explores both sides of a reaction one may have towards an LGBT colleague. It is absolutely imperative that one supports such individuals and avoids both discrimination and favoritism. Including the examples gave the article a better perspective on the subject.

shylendhirakumar on 02 Dec 2020, 18:29 PM