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October 13 - 15


Identity Expression: Coming Out of the Work Closet

Matt Rogers   

In companies all over, ‘inclusion’ and ‘identity’ have become buzzwords. Declarations of acceptance and support are passed down from executive conference rooms on top floors, by way of internal emails and external job postings. In reality, an inclusive work environment isn’t a box to be checked off, an message to be marked as read, or a motivational poster hung by a water cooler. It takes effort across the board, throughout all levels of a workplace to create a space where everyone feels welcome.

As a gay man working in the south, my experience with identity expression has been varied. In some positions, a portion of my energy that could otherwise be dedicated to my job, instead went to staying in the “work-closet,” despite my proudly being out to friends and family for years. I caught myself “straightening up” my wardrobe, removing nail polish from my fingers, and changing gender pronouns when coworkers probed about my dating life.

It wasn’t until I found a job at a company that champions diversity and personal identity, that I realized I had silently wandered my way back into a closet. Over time, I realized that all of my coworkers had their own closets. They changed the way they spoke, avoided conversations around religious practices and holidays, and removed piercings and covered tattoos with foundation or long sleeves. Identity concealment had been slipped into morning routines, somewhere between the first cup of coffee and last red light before pulling into the parking lot.

This talk highlights the opportunities of individual employees at all levels of a company or organization to make their work lives better. Diversity, inclusion, and identity expression can make or break company culture. Shortcomings in diversity diminish productivity, creativity, and collaboration. A lack of consideration of how safe, welcome, and accepted your employees feel can have far reaching consequences. There are tangible benefits to enacting efforts around identity expression and inclusion at work. Being a diverse and open workplace is just good business.