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Resumes & Interviews Researching an Employer Coming Out in the Workplace What to do if you are a Target of Discrimination Additional Links & Resources -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Career Services at GVSU Counseling and Career Development Center at GVSU

Although everyone has concerns or questions when searching for a job or considering a career change, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have additional issues related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. At Grand Valley State University, most LGBT students have experienced a supportive environment, with an active LGBT group, supportive friends, and a university policy that specifically mentions sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination and harassment policies. The workplace, however, can vary dramatically in terms of support, openness, and protection for LGBT employees. This webpage is designed to help you understand some of the issues faced by LGBT people in the workplace, as well as to give you some additional resources that will help you make decisions about your own approach to career issues. To Be (Out) or Not to Be (Out): That is the Question!

Each individual must decide how important it is to be out, and under what circumstances she or he will come out. Your position on this will likely change throughout your lifetime, and may change from situation to situation. Ask yourself the following questions: Are most of your friends, peers, and support networks LGBT? Are you activity in any LGBT organizations? Do you enjoy going to LGBT events, such as Pride, LGBT concerts, etc? Do most of your friends and family members know that you are LGBT? If you have a partner, is he or she out in most situations? For some people, being out is an integral part of who they are. They feel that hiding or minimizing their sexual orientation is "living a lie." They would likely answer "yes" to many of the above questions. Some also believe that in order for LGBT people to ever receive equal treatment and support, we must all be out and visible. Others feel that their sexual orientation is only a small part of what defines them as a person. Other than with a few close friends, they may not share information about their sexual orientation or relationships. They are likely to answer "no" to most of the above questions. There are pros and cons in each position. Some research has shown that those who stay in the closet or who "pass" as heterosexual are more likely to lose self-esteem or develop other emotional problems. However, in being out, you may face discrimination or harassment. The bottom line is that you must do what is comfortable for you to do now, keeping in mind that you can change your decisions throughout your life. RĂŠsumĂŠs and Interviews If you've been active in a LGBT group, how should you document this on your resume? It depends on how you answered the questions above. Those who feel strongly about being out sometimes use their resume or cover letter as a way of "screening out" nonsupportive employers. (To help determine if an employer has formal policies supportive of LGBT employees, see the section on "Researching Employers") For those who do not want to be "outed" early on in the job hunt, a simple strategy is to not include any reference to any LGBT organizations or affiliations. However, employers and graduate schools want to know how you've spent your time and the skills you have developed outside of the classroom. If you were the president of a LGBT student organization with 50 active members, and organized an annual conference or speaker

organization with 50 active members, and organized an annual conference or speaker series, you have gained leadership and organizational skills that are of real value to a potential employer! As with other potentially controversial organizations, such as religious groups, you may choose to focus on the skills and accomplishments you developed rather than the affiliation. You could list the LGBT organization as "Anti-Discrimination Organization," and then document your duties or skills gained during this experience. Some people simply choose to use the acronym, LGBT, or name of the group, Pride. Another approach, which is often useful for all college students, regardless of membership in organizations, is to utilize a "functional" or "skills-based" format for your resume. This takes the focus off the organization or employer, and emphasizes the skills that you gained (see the Career Services website for further resources and help in developing a resume). Remember, no matter how you document your participation in a LGBTorganization, you must be prepared for questions in an interview. An interviewer might ask, "I see you were president of Pride for two years. Can you tell me what kind of organization it is?" This is not necessarily an attempt to discriminate against you, they might just want to know what the letters stand for. If you have decided to be out, you can respond with a simple description. If you have chosen not to be out, you may want to refer to it as an anti-discrimination organization and then focus on the skills or achievements you have as a result of your work. For example, "Pride is a campus anti-discrimination organization. As treasurer I was responsible for several fundraising activities, as well as general bookkeeping and account reconciliation." Notice how the response focuses on the skills you have to offer rather than the organization. As with any interview situation, the key to dealing with issues of sexual orientation is to practice, practice, practice. If you are startled by a question during an interview, you may appear unprepared, embarrassed, or unsure of yourself. Take advantage of mock interviews at the Career Services, and schedule individual appointments with a Career Services counselor to help you determine your approach. Let the counselor know that you would like to practice handling questions regarding sexual orientation or involvement in LGBT groups so that the interview can be tailored to your needs. Remember, all conversations at the Career Services are confidential. Researching Employers Some employers are very supportive of LGBT employees, and others have a more hostile environment. Although researching a company will not guarantee the behavior or

environment. Although researching a company will not guarantee the behavior or attitudes of specific employees, it does provide you with a measure for how any incidents would be handled, and gives you an idea about the general atmosphere you can expect. Here are some of the topics you should research: 1. Non-Discrimination Policies. The first place to look for information about a potential employer is their non-discrimination clause. This policy is usually prominent in any promotional materials regarding employment. It often begins, "XYZ is an equal opportunity employer, and does not discriminate based on race, gender, age," etc. Look to see if sexual orientation is included in their statement. 2. State regulations regarding discrimination. Several states, Wisconsin included, specifically include sexual orientation in their employment non-discrimination laws. Not only does this give you an added measure of protection should something happen, but it also sets a general tone of acceptance, or at least tolerance, throughout the state. Human resource personnel and employers are well versed in the law, and try to take steps to ensure that they are following it. The "Helpful Resources" section of this site contains links to resources that will help you identify supportive states. 3. Domestic Partner Benefits. Many employers, particularly large companies or organizations, currently extend to domestic partners benefits that have traditionally been offered only to spouses of employees. Benefits such as health and life insurance, educational grants, and access to recreational facilities are often included in these packages. Although these may not seem important to you right now, they may become very important to you in the future, and at a minimum signify the organization's commitment to diversity. By providing these benefits, employers know that they are more likely to attract and retain highly skilled employees. For example, your partner may be more willing to relocate with you to a job if he or she knows that there will not be a gap in health care coverage. It also allows for more flexibility in careers or a return to school, a benefit enjoyed by spouses for many decades. Keep in mind, however, that "benefits" can vary greatly, and sometimes domestic partners must provide evidence of their partnership in order to receive benefits. For example, you may be asked to provide evidence that your finances are shared, you are named in each other's wills, and/or you own significant property (house/car) together. Although information regarding domestic partner benefits is often very easy to find, it may not be discussed until you are offered a job, when benefits typically are discussed. Again, using some of the resources provided by this webpage or Career Services to research organizations' policies before an interview will prove beneficial.

4. LGBT Employee Groups. Some major employers offer formal or informal LGBT groups. Formal groups are authorized and supported by the employer, informal groups are organized by employees on their own time. Human resources personnel can tell you whether the employer has such an organization and provide contact names. Contacting alumni who work in the organization can be helpful, particularly if they were active in the university LGBT group while a student. Coming Out in the Workplace If you have weighed the pros and cons and have decided to come out in the workplace, there are several ways to do so. Remember, even if you have come out during the interview, it is unlikely that this information was passed on to your co-workers or even your supervisor. In general, as in all areas of your life, coming out on the job is an ongoing process. You do not need to spend your first day at work introducing yourself as "John, the Gay Accountant!" Most LGBT employees recommend that you focus first on the job at hand and establish yourself as a professional. Your primary purpose is to perform a job. Do that well, and the rest will follow. You will find that people do talk about their personal lives while at work. Someone may directly ask you, "Are you married?" A reasonable response at the beginning of your process may be, "No, but I'm in a committed relationship," or "No, I'm dating, but not in a committed relationship." As you move through your coming out process, you can talk casually about how you spent the weekend. Using the term "partner" often signals people, so can talking about LGBT-oriented events. If co-workers have pictures of their family and friends on their desk or in their offices, you can include some of your own (but be ready for questions!). Many people find that once the "mystery" of your social life is revealed, co-workers will not make a big deal out of it. Some will be overly supportive, a few may be antagonistic, and the majority will simply accept you for the value of your work, not your personal life. If you have questions about the potential reaction of co-workers, you can ask for advice from a trusted supervisor, human resources professional, or LGBT co-worker. What to do if you are the target of discrimination Sometimes, no matter how much research you have conducted, you may find yourself in a difficult situation. Discrimination can be subtle or obvious, individual or institutional.

a difficult situation. Discrimination can be subtle or obvious, individual or institutional. In any case, it is important to identify the problem and take appropriate steps to deal with the situation. If you feel that you are the target of discrimination based on your sexual orientation, the first step you must take is to conduct an honest evaluation of the circumstances. Can you identify specific actions/situations in which your sexual orientation was an issue? If the problem is a poor evaluation from your supervisor, might there be legitimate improvements you need to make? It's always difficult to hear that you need to improve your work, but it doesn't always mean that you are being discriminated against due to your sexual orientation. It's always a good idea to take some time after a negative review to let emotions cool off so that you can assess the situation more clearly. The key to identifying discrimination is having documentation of specific incidents. Noting vague feelings of discrimination, while certainly important, will not help you take steps necessary to change or improve the situation. Did a co-worker do or say something to you? Are there employer-sponsored events that are open to heterosexual couples but not gay or lesbian couples? Does the work environment include homophobic materials such as cartoons in break rooms? Do co-workers or supervisors tell gay "jokes" in the office? Write down these incidents with dates, times, and names of others who were present. You may want to make notes like this in a journal or other record-keeping method at home. Keep in mind that if the situation escalates to legal action, your entire journal may be reviewed, not just the parts you think are relevant to the situation. After careful consideration of the circumstances, it is time to evaluate your next steps. If you think there was an isolated lapse of judgment (e.g., a stupid "joke" told by a coworker who may not have realized it was offensive), your best step could be to simply document the incident and continue to work as usual. An even better response would be to talk individually to the person and explain why the joke was inappropriate. Take care to note this conversation as well. Steps become more complicated if you are subject to repeated acts of discrimination from co-workers or discrimination from your supervisor. Again, if you believe you have a solid relationship with your supervisor, a conversation outlining your concerns may be helpful. Keep in mind, however, that employers are often nervous and defensive when issues of discrimination come up. Approach the conversation calmly and with specific examples of incidents and concerns. After the meeting, document the content, including date and time of the conversation. Take care to document any steps that your supervisor

date and time of the conversation. Take care to document any steps that your supervisor agrees to take in order to remedy the situation. If the discrimination continues after this meeting, or it is your supervisor who has been discriminatory or abusive, you may need to make more formal steps. If your employer or state includes sexual orientation in their non-discrimination clause, you should also be able to find information regarding steps to filing a complaint. Check with your Human Resources department or employee handbook. At this time you may want to discuss the situation with a third party. Talking to a counselor, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) representative, or a similar professional may help you sort out the situation and determine your options. Filing an internal complaint is a step that should not be taken lightly. Although it may ultimately be rewarding and result in positive changes, it can also be quite stressful, and you may not get the results you hoped for. Negative consequences can include everything from a "cold" environment in the workplace to being suspended or even fired. A strong support system within or outside of the work environment may help you deal with the stress and keep things in perspective. Finally, you may have legal remedies available to you. This depends on many factors, including the non-discrimination policies of your employer and state, the type or level of discrimination, and documented evidence. Sexual harassment and discrimination allegations can be difficult to prove, and consultation with an attorney can help you analyze the situation and identify your options, which may include mediation or litigation. When choosing an attorney, research his or her experience with sexual harassment/discrimination claims as well as his or her experience working with LGBT clients. Local, state, and national LGBT organizations, some of which are linked to this page, may be able to refer you to appropriate attorneys. We all hope that we will be judged solely on the basis of our performance, and for the most part we find this to be true. However, if you find yourself in any of the situations described above, you do not have to go through it alone. Seek out support from LGBT groups in your area, talk to a professional counselor, or lean on your family and friends. Although it may be of little comfort when you are going through this situation, many long-term changes in policy, laws, and cultural expectations have resulted from the hard work of people committed to establishing equal protection and treatment for all. Adapted from resources created by Joyce M. Stern & Steven V. Langerud of Lawrence University's Career Center.

Additional Links & Information Know your Rights: Employment non-descrimination laws by State Find a job at an LGBT friendly company: HRC Corporate Equality Index LGBT Friendly Job Search Gay Friendly Companies Additional Resources: Out & Equal: Workplace Advocates Lambda Legal: Out at Work Guide GVSU home


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