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The Case For Coming Out at Work

Accounting firms' PR departments have seemed bent on talking about "covering" of late along with the usual diversity and inclusion nonsense, encouraging their professionals to "be themselves." As we all know, this is generally terrible advice, especially if "yourself" is a complete jerk.

The issue is so pervasive that a Deloitte study found not only do gay black Jews hide their true selves at work, but even half of straight white guys — presumably feeling guilty about their boring, saltine existences — cover who they are at work:

A new study from the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion and law professor Kenji Yoshino indicates widespread instances of "covering," the process by which individuals downplay their differences relative to mainstream perceptions, in ways costly to their productivity and sense of self at work.  Three out of four (75 percent) research participants state that they have covered their identity; and, surprisingly, half (50 percent) of straight white male respondents report hiding their authentic selves on the job.

Well, yeah, duh. Part of that has less to do with some big social conspiracy and more to do with the fact that we are at work. I drink a lot and pick my nose at stoplights; neither are considered appropriate workplace behavior, so therefore I have to "cover" my drinking problem by working sober (nose-picking, on the other hand, is allowed since I work from home). I'm not actually covering, it's just that if I brought my authentic self to work, I would be fired.

Anyway, people cover for other reasons as well. Like respondents to the Deloitte study who try to blend in with the crowd. One black woman said she "straightened her hair for work and wore weaves instead of her natural hair because she felt it was more acceptable, while a gay respondent said "he wouldn’t wear certain outfits to work because he feared it was 'too gay.'" It goes without saying your Folsom Street Fair leather daddy outfit isn't appropriate for the workplace.

But now, Thomas Artoos — who interned with Bain & Company last summer — writes for Fast Company that professionals shouldn't be all that afraid to come out, using his own story as proof:

Although I feel very comfortable about my sexuality, I was not out in the workplace before starting my MBA. Convincing myself that it was not important for my professional life, I usually danced around innocuous questions like, "Do you have a girlfriend?" or, "What did you do over the weekend?" I didn't mind telling my colleagues once they knew me better and wouldn’t be influenced by any prejudice they may have towards gay people.

The weekend comment is a little strange, unless all the gay people have started throwing wild parties on some big gay island every Saturday. Gay people do the same thing straight people do on weekends: sleep, read the paper, go to the park, catch a movie. And, in the case of public accountants, work.

I’m not sure if coming out early on would have changed my professional path or achievements, but I did come to the realization that until then I didn’t have the courage to be my true self. Hiding my sexuality meant consistently having to twist messages about my personal life for superiors, subordinates, and clients. These colleagues and clients could sense my discomfort, diminishing the trust between us.

Now we're getting somewhere. If you're caught up in your cover story, lying about spending your weekend drinking Bud Lights and chasing girls when really you and your boyfriend Marc made coconut lemongrass chicken is only putting up a barrier between them and you.

Many straight—and even some LGBT—professionals don’t see the importance of being open about their sexuality, considering it a private, not professional, matter. But when Apple CEO Tim Cook came out to the public, he sent a signal that you can be gay and lead one of the most influential organizations of our generation. I’m convinced it will inspire many LGBT professionals to come out, or stay out, once they join a new company. While I understand why people question the importance, I believe that hiding a piece of who you are hinders your productivity.

That's just it. Imagine all the time and effort that goes into pretending to be someone you aren't when you could just be you — again, careful if "being you" is counterproductive to your gainful employment — and do your job.

Just be your fabulous self and everyone will be better off.