Your Queer Individuality Isn’t a Liability
More companies in the west are embracing LGBT individuality. That’s why it may be your greatest equity today.
“You can be or do anything you want. The fact that you’re gay doesn’t mean you have to give up your career at IBM. You don’t have to give up anything.”
That was the response of IBM’s head of human resource department in North Carolina in 1978 when then a recent college graduate, Jay Allen, tried to give notice that he had to quit. Allen thought he had to choose between his career or being a gay man.
These profound words from a progressive boss would change Allen’s beliefs about himself and his opportunities for the rest of his life. Allen would then rise through the ranks at IBM, GE and eventually become the Executive Vice President of Human Resources for Charles Schwab all as an out and proud gay man and, at the time, possibly the most senior C-suite executive to be out in America.
Jay Allen’s experience in the late 70s would portend a shift in thinking, however slowly, in the business world. Today, more than ever, companies want employees who think different, with different skills and who are different. The very things that make you unique are the very things that give you equity today in the business world.
Today, we turn to the letter I in our P-R-I-D-E series and I is our queer individuality. If you’re struggling to be yourself in your work, if you’re suppressing who and what you are, you can’t give your employer, your job, your clients or yourself 100%. You only have so much energy. If you’re using power to dim your shine, you can’t give the world what it is you were born to give.
Businesses are starting to understand this, and that is why they’re looking for employees who are authentic and by being their true selves make the company better. The more you that you are, the more equity you have.
You’ve got personality, and it pays
Published in 2001, Strength Finders by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton is a business management book that uses the Clifton Strengths Finder test to help people assess their top five out of 34 strengths, or “talents themes.”
Rather than spending time and energy making up for inherent shortcomings, the book argues business people are better served maximizing natural capabilities. As business leaders build teams, the book continues, they should hire a mix of people with complementing talent themes to make a stronger team, rather than hire individuals with similar strengths that result in group-think.
Some talent themes are more common than others, making rare talent themes a valuable commodity and thereby raising the equity of your unique qualities.
The Kolbe Index is an assessment test that measures people’s “instinctive ways of doing things” or their “method of operation.” The idea is to help people fully understand their unique means to solve problems so that they can have the most effective impact. Therefore, what makes you, makes you more useful.
Both and other similar tools seek to help build better teams by pairing people with different strengths. Both strive to help people maximize their strengths rather than focus people on what they’ll simply never be good at doing. Consequently, what makes you unique, in part because of your sexual orientation or gender identity and background, is more valuable than ever.
You’re a wanted man or woman
The face of America is changing. Despite headwinds, we’re becoming a more diverse place, and it’s through our diversity that we’ll become stronger.
The fastest growing demographics in America is the Asian population by 3.4% between 2014 and 2015 and with a projected purchasing power of $1.1 trillion by 2020. For these reasons, businesses want to connect with the Asian communities. Asian communities want to do business with companies and entrepreneurs who understand them. The best way for companies to understand the various Asian communities is for businesses to work with and hire Asian employees who can share their experiences and backgrounds.
The same goes for the queer community. As of 2016, the queer community has a purchasing power near $1 trillion. With whom do you think queer people want to do business? The LGBT community wants to do business with companies and entrepreneurs who understand them. You are the best conduit for helping companies understand us and “trying to fit in” thwarts your ability to do so.
As the effervescent Patrick Riley said at Prudential’s recent LGBT Financial Experience Symposium in Newark NJ, “When they told me to stop dancing, I danced, and when they told me to stop singing, I sang Donna Summer.” Riley didn’t cower as an out producer on the Oprah Winfrey Show and especially not when Oprah asked him to turn the camera on himself to share his story of being a gay man of color in the world of media. Although his family may have wanted him to tone it down, Riley refused for himself and other gay men of color.
So, illuminate your shine.
Unique is geek and chic
Gone are the days of assembly lines that required employees to repeat repetitive tasks. Those jobs have been taken over by machines and robots, and machines take more jobs every day. Estimates suggest that robots will replace 30% of today’s jobs by 2025.
Today’s economy is a knowledge-based-economy with employees with valuable intellectual property. But, no one can know everything and businesses know this. Businesses, also, understand that they can’t benefit from group think. Therefore, they’re seeking people of diverse backgrounds and experiences and using corporate personality tests to maximize the diversity of these employees.
Trying to clone the same knowledge and experience as everyone else only lowers your equity. It’s your unique knowledge and experiences, the fabric of you, that raises your equity in the business world and can improve yours and our queer community’s financial strength.
Therefore, don’t embrace your pride with one parade a year or even for one month a year. Embrace your pride and all that makes you unique 365 days a year at home, at play and at work. The brighter you shine, the brighter the world becomes.