Posted October 06, 2015 by

LGBT business owner shares benefits of being open in the workplace

Before starting a business, people face various challenges. LGBT business owners face their own obstacles too. Learning how to tell others who they are is one of them. Once owners do, they can benefit personally.

To help explore these issues, College Recruiter recently hosted a College Recruiting Bootcamp on LGBT and other diversity hiring issues on Tuesday, September 29, at the Twilio headquarters in San Francisco.

College Recruiter has been publishing the opinions from a number of talent acquisition and recruiting leaders about why and how employers should diversify their workforces. Nate Smith, Founder and CTO of Lever, shares a personal story about the benefits he discovered by being open in the workplace.

nate smith

Nate Smith, Founder and CTO of Lever

“If I had been born even 10 years earlier, being gay might have been a barrier to my success. Yet if anything, it’s been the opposite. Clearly, this is not the case everywhere in the world or everywhere in the U.S. today. But for me personally, being gay has given me a great network of friends and mentors who are in my corner. Of course, I went to a liberal, new college near Boston, moved to San Francisco afterward, and have worked in computer software; but I think my story is increasingly common for gay and other LGBTQ people in the U.S. today. The biggest obstacle I’ve faced has been a relatively small one: learning how to come out.”

“Going into my freshman year at Olin College in 2003, I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t yet told any of my friends or family, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to live the rest of my life without sharing this very deep part of my identity. Olin is an exclusively engineering college, and I wasn’t sure how socially conservative the engineering field was. But shortly after arriving, I came to realize all the worry had been for nothing. Fairly quickly, I came out to some of my close friends. Olin was a brand new college (I was a member of the second graduating class), and I joined in the cause with a few other students to help establish Open, Olin’s LGBTQ club. We were one of the most active and visible clubs on campus. Our goal was to make it clear to every student and member of our community that they were free to be who they are.”

“At the beginning of college, it was a shock to me that most mindsets had already changed, and there was no downside to being myself. This isn’t just true on college campuses or in the relatively progressive field of computer software. Even my husband, who is now a professional marksman after winning Season 4 of the History Channel’s Top Shot, was surprised to find so much acceptance in the firearms industry.”

“In no way do I wish to say that the fight for LGBTQ civil rights is over. You can still be fired for being transgendered in the large majority of this country, and people in many parts of the world continue to carry out atrocious hateful acts for no reason other than a person’s sexual or gender identity or expression. I’m merely optimistic that I’m part of the last generation where many gay professionals in the more progressive parts of the world find their sexual orientation a barrier to success.”

“After realizing that coming out isn’t all that scary and helping other people do the same in college, I had a second realization about coming out as I graduated: it wasn’t this deep and transformative process you only have to do once. It does not end. You have to constantly come out.”

“I learned that the hard way when I started at Google and let a year pass without telling my team I’m gay. Despite being completely out for many years, I somehow found myself in the awkward position of my co-workers asking if I had a girlfriend. It became this horribly awkward thing. I wasn’t afraid of how they’d take it, I just didn’t want to drop a bomb in casual conversation and make people feel uncomfortable. The longer I waited, the worse it got.”

“In hindsight, I’ve learned that the person making you feel uncomfortable is usually yourself, and the best way to neutralize uncomfortable situations is to come out quickly and come out often. My friends and I joke that we should casually slip that we’re gay into conversations when we’re new to a job, “Hey Mary, how was lunch today? By the way, I’m gay!”

“As a founder, I made a point of casually coming out to every single candidate we hired for our first couple of years during the interview process. You never 100% get over the slight awkwardness, bringing up such a personal part of your identity in a casual conversation, but in the long run, it is always best. If my experience is any indication, most people will embrace you as you are. If you ever aren’t accepted, remember there are always other people who will be open to you as you are, and you should focus your time on them.”

Bio –

Nate Smith is the founder and CTO of Lever, a San Francisco, Calif.-based software startup helping businesses like Yelp, Lyft, and Quora source and hire top-tier talent. Nate is the author of DerbyJS, Lever’s JavaScript framework for realtime, collaborative applications. Prior to Lever, Nate was a product manager on the Google search team. He led the first major redesign of Google’s image search UI, which launched in July 2010.

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