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Sander van ‘t Noordende: ‘Being out at work has enabled me to fully realize my potential’

Sander van ‘t Noordende: ‘Being out at work has enabled me to fully realize my potential’

One week after I joined Accenture in 1987 I got an invitation for the annual office party. That meant I had to make up my mind: do I bring my partner or do I go by myself?

I decided to bring my partner. Everybody seemed OK with that. We had a great evening and we met many nice and interesting people, many of whom are still friends.

In short, being out at Accenture has never created an issue for me.

When it comes to being out at work I would like to offer a few practical thoughts.

Not being at out at work limits your career potential. Hiding a very important part of your personality and life complicates things at work. You have to remember what you told to whom and when.

You run the risk of being perceived as disingenuous because of inconsistencies in your stories. The quality of the relationships with the people at work will suffer from it. And ultimately your career will not be what it could be.

Finally, people will find out one way or another, especially in an age of social media and smartphones.

It is not your problem. If someone at work has an issue with you being gay and out, it is their problem, not yours.

By the way: this rarely happens. If it does: be professional and continue to work with those colleagues as you would work with anyone else. There is no need to be friends with all of your colleagues. If you do a good job you will generally be fine.

If people bully you it becomes a different matter: address the issue with your boss or HR and let them deal with it.

If that fails, you may reach the ultimate conclusion that you should leave to go work for a more inclusive company. There are many lists out there that can help you identify those.

You don’t have to come out all the time and to everyone. Work is about work and not necessarily about people’s private lives.

I once met a client and almost the first thing he said to me was that he was gay. Frankly, I was not interested in that because we had a job to do. Once you get to know people better and things like family come up, you can talk about your life in a natural way.

It is not like telling your mother every time. You don’t have to sit your colleagues down and say, ‘I have to tell you something.’

Be natural about it. I often say ‘my partner does so and so’, ‘we have no kids’, or that I ‘am going to the LGBT network event tonight’.

They will figure it out – if not right away, then after some time. And once they figure it out they might even tell others, which does the job for you.

Don’t count too much on that effect, though. In my experience people are more discrete than you might expect.

Networking works. If your organization has an LGBT network then join it and find out how other colleagues have dealt with the challenges you face.

Even if you think you don’t need to, still join because there might be others who can benefit from your learning. It is also a good way to help leadership in the company create an inclusive workplace.

If you think ‘but what if…’, you should get over it. You will soon learn that networking does not only work, but that it is fun as well.

Now: I realize that I have been very privileged to work for Accenture, which has offered me great opportunities and where the work environment is diverse and inclusive. However, I am also convinced that being out at work has enabled me to fully realize my potential and to live a life that is not too complicated.

I also realize that real life for others may not be as easy as it was for me, but I still hope that my thoughts here are of help.

You can follow Sander on Twitter at @Sandervtn