Should I disclose I’m gay when applying for jobs?

Question:

Dear Newly Suited

I am a member of the LGBT community and am relatively comfortable being out to my friends and family.

But I am confused about how to handle the topic in the workplace. Previously I’ve completed some work experience at firms where colleagues, clients and partners presumed I was straight from day one and I found it too awkward to set the record straight, so to speak.

I am applying for roles in a range of firms and organisations, and am unsure whether disclosing my orientation will hurt my chances of getting an interview or job offer. On the one hand, I know being gay has no direct bearing on my ability to practise law and I don’t want to be discriminated against. On the other, I don’t want to repeat the experience of another “straight-acting” job.

While there are plenty of resources telling candidates to “just be yourself”, I could use some practical advice on how to come out professionally, particularly during the recruitment process.

#lostintheworkcloset

Answer:

Dear #lostintheworkcloset,

We can definitely relate to the challenges you and other LGBT practitioners face in deciding whether or not to disclose your orientation at work.

It is natural to want to make a great first impression and get along with colleagues, regardless of your orientation. Individual people will react to things differently, but the Newly Suited Committee is optimistic that increasingly, firms value diversity in the workplace and clients want to engage lawyers they can relate to.

That said, your safety, wellbeing and mental health are the top priority and it is important that if you choose to come out at work, you are in a safe environment.

There is nothing wrong with not coming out immediately at work if the environment is not safe. There are all sorts of ways you could try to change the culture of the firm from inside until you can come out safely.

It is great to hear you are already out to your friends and family, as these are the key people who can support you as you weigh up what is a deeply personal decision.

Take advantage of the ADLS Buddy Programme or other collegiality and networking events if you need extra peer support. In addition, the ADLS Friends Panel provides confidential support services from senior practitioners, and there are LGBT support services such as OUTLine NZ.

If you’ve decided you want to disclose your orientation upfront, then you can consider including information in your CV, such as volunteer or fundraising work for an LGBT organisation or include LGBT issues in a blurb about your hobbies and interests.

You should be able to talk to these points in your CV in an interview which will hopefully make disclosure of your orientation occur more naturally than being forced into the conversation. You could also ask the interviewer “Do you think an LGBT employee would enjoy the culture at this firm?” to begin a conversation on the topic without it being too focussed on your sexual orientation or gender identity.

We recommend you also do your research on the firms you are applying for as this can help streamline the process of finding the right fit.

On firm websites, you can often find diversity and inclusion policies, as well as information on which charities and pro-bono clients they support which could align with LGBT values.

Some law firms are now Rainbow Tick accredited, meaning they routinely pass audits with the Rainbow Tick organisation for compliance with LGBT inclusion in the workplace.

We should also add that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal in New Zealand although unconscious bias and discrimination still occurs.

Gender identity is not explicitly protected, but courts have heard cases based on sex discrimination.

We hope these tips will help you and other LGBT practitioners to bring your authentic selves to work.

If you or someone you know is affected by this story and would like to talk the Newly Suited Committee or would like us to discuss any other issues in upcoming articles, please contact us in confidence through: Committee.Secretary@adls.org.nz

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