As I mentioned before, last Saturday I had the privilege of participating in the Successful Women in Business panel sponsored by the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce as part of the Equality Forum. My thanks go out to Kate Karasmeighan who arranged and moderated the event.
A small but mighty group gathered for 90 minutes to share their own personal and professional experiences on the topics of sexism and homophobia in the workplace. What most surprised me was the unanimous sentiments of the panel that the biggest challenges in the workplace are not because we are lesbian but rather because we are women. I can say that even though I’ve been out in corporate america for ages, I’ve had greater challenges with managers and co-workers because I am a woman (and an outspoken one at that) than because of being a lesbian. I’ve found that even though I am out and they know I am in a long term relationship, I often am still categorized as one of those “single women without children and family”. Somehow they didn’t “get it” that I have a life, a family, and a house that demands my attention.
We also talked a bit about the process of coming out in the workplace. The bottom line is that you need to have a support structure in place and need to pick your battles when it comes to determining how much or how little to disclose about your personal life. While you don’t want to appear aloof, mysterious, and an odd duck who has no life or personality, you also don’t want to divulge too much information which is truly no ones business.
While turnout was a little smaller than ideal I believe it made for a very intimate and highly participative event. If any of the powers that be at Equality Forum are listening, I would ask that they don’t set the schedule so similar topics compete with one another at the same time slot. Surely there is more than enough wisdom from successful women in business in our community to complement each other in the programming rather than compete for the same time slot.