Gay employees weigh coming-out issues

Should you come out work? If so, when and how? It's a complex decision with many factors playing a role. Here are some to consider.

Gay employees weigh coming-out issues

Every lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) person must figure out the right time -- and most appropriate way -- to come out to family and friends. Transfer the coming-out situation to the workplace, and it becomes even more complex.

Even as most Fortune 500 corporations tout LGBT-friendly policies as recruitment tools and the workforce becomes more diverse, many factors -- including office culture and your state of mind -- must be considered before telling your colleagues that you're gay.

Does the company talk the talk?

If you work for an employer like IBM, which includes sexual orientation as well as gender expression and identity in its nondiscrimination policies, offers domestic partner benefits and sponsors nearly 50 LGBT employee groups, you're probably in good stead.

Check out this huge list of companies that scored high for LGBT equality on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, and click through to find job opportunities on Monster.

But not ever state prohibits private employers from firing workers because of their sexual orientation, so knowing your company's policies is critical, says Jere Keys, communications manager for Out and Equal, a nonprofit workplace advocacy for LGBT people.

The impact on the team

"When we advise people on coming out at work we want to make sure that they are aware of their workplace surroundings, that they take the temperature of teammates to get a feel for whether or not they will be accepting," said Eric Bloem, associate director of the Human Rights Campaign's Workplace Project. "The last thing we want is for people to come out into a situation where they feel even more stressed, concerned and fearful than when they were in the closet."

Let your resume do the work

If you prefer to have your orientation out there before you even get the job, one way is to list on your resume memberships in LGBT professional or community groups.

Including such affiliations, according to Brad Salavich, manager of IBM's LGBT diversity programs, sends a signal that "here's someone who wants to be out. We can now talk about it."

The interview strategy

By inquiring about nondiscrimination policies or domestic partner benefits during an interview, you can come out without having to say, "Yep, I'm gay."

"I encourage my gay and lesbian clients to ask about diversity," Jansen says. "It's going to be obvious in many cases why you're asking."

Be honest with yourself

Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is whether you can work in a place where it's not OK to be out.

"If you don't feel like you can disclose your sexual orientation in an interview, are you ever going to feel like you can disclose it on the job -- and is that the environment you want to be working in?" Keys says.