Early in my career, I was in the Balkans, being introduced to a supplier, and seated next to me at the dinner table was a girl whose role was strangely unclear.
After some time, it clicked that she was there to entertain me; to act as my ‘plus one’ for the evening.
As a gay man, in a foreign country, something had obviously been lost in translation – and not just the totally inappropriate idea that providing me with company was the right way to do business.
We actually ended up having a really interesting discussion about the NATO bombings of Belgrade and, after accepting a lift back to my hotel – to give the impression that she had fulfilled her duties – we parted company.
Despite being open and out in the workplace for almost my entire career, there are times when people just didn’t get the memo.
The flip side of being truthful about your sexuality in the workplace is that you have to come out, on a daily basis, and often to people you don’t really care about.
But being authentic is extremely important, and for some key reasons. Firstly, the amount of time and energy spent concealing your identity is keeping your brain from fulfilling its potential.
Many of my best ideas about problem solving or strategizing at work, come to me spontaneously when my subconscious has been quietly pondering in the background.
How many of us have enjoyed a light bulb moment in the shower… walking the dog… at 1am? When you are fully engaged in the job, your subconscious continues that work after hours, and being authentic frees up your mind from issues like, ‘How could I lie about this?’, ‘How can I avoid that situation?’, ‘What if I’m expected to bring a partner?’ taking priority.
The second issue is the very notion of authenticity and its importance.
In creative industries, and the media, in particular, there are often many ways to approach a business challenge, and more than one answer to a question. Our task is to articulate our opinions with credibility and self-belief and nothing undermines that more than inauthenticity.
People pick up on it, and if they don’t buy into you, they’re not going to buy into your idea. When you are hiding your identity, there are lots of subconscious barriers you are putting up, and that gets in the way of people believing you and believing in you.
If a potential employer is not going to do business with you because you’re gay, it was never going to work in the first place. Stay true to yourself and you will attract like minds and productive collaborators.
Clearly some industries are more accepting than others, so my advice is to weigh up the risks and the benefits and use your judgment.
Being in a senior role at a media company like The Economist which champions gay rights, I’m aware there is very little risk to my career, but it’s important that I use that privilege to be openly ‘out’ because, the more we are visible and heard, the better it will be for everybody else.
Millennials and their understanding of gender fluidity and identity are far more accepting than Generation X, so the future looks colorful.