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October 26, 2021

Intersectionality and coming out at work safely, by LGBTQI+ voices


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22 fearless women* share their experience of being a member of the LGBTQI+** community in the workplace. Read how their employers supported them to feel genuinely heard, secure, and respected.

For many women, their gender, race, age, religion, national origin, gender conformity and sexual orientation – along with other aspects of their identity – overlap to impact their experience within the workplace.

Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe this convergence and its impact.

Intersectionality explained by Kimberlé Crenshaw

“We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”

Read more about the intersectionality concept and the controversy around in this article written by Vox.

Does intersectionality promote radical feminism?

The elimination of structural inequality that Kimberlé Crenshaw coined with the term intersectionality does not have to do with the radical feminism some sectors are trying to link it to. Intersectionality is about civil rights.

“…Intersectionality it’s not a mechanism to turn white men into the new pariahs. It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.” – Read more in this article published by Time Magazine

Is an intersectional lens relevant to discussions about the gender pay gap?

Different aspects of people’s identities can overlap to create compounding experiences of discrimination and privilege. The persistent racial gender pay gap is just an example of the impact of intersectionality.

Read more about the gender pay gap and why isn’t a myth.

Intersectionality and the experience of LGBTQI+** members at work

In a workplace setting, where an intersectional lens is not applied to the LGBTQI+** employees, it can lead to some individuals feeling excluded, isolated, misrepresented, and ultimately disengaged. 

Happily, the women*s’ voices we amplified were heard, and today they share their stories to prove that even small changes in the workplace space can make a significant difference to transform the fear of coming out at work into a safe experience.

Safety and support beyond acknowledgement

Chris Mossiah - (They/Them) | Associate, Data Acquisition, Corporate Technology, J.P. Morgan

In my first year at J.P. Morgan, I almost left the firm because I wasn’t sure I could be myself. For example, I prefer to wear menswear, and the way I present myself doesn’t allow me to ‘fly under the radar’ in the same way as others.

But when I reached out to the PRIDE Business Resource Group (BRG) —the firm’s employee network for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, + and, Ally colleagues—, they really made me feel like family. It made a big difference to be able to talk to people who have worked here a long time. In fact, in 2019 I came out as non-binary while I was on the Chase float at a PRIDE parade, even before I came out to my biological family.

I see it as part of my job to shake up certain norms and challenge what people expect from someone in our industry or in a technology role. Making people uncomfortable is sometimes the only way to drive change.

Narissa Khan - (She/Her) | Administrative Assistant in CX AMER, TTG organization, Cisco

I’m a Canadian of West Indian descent, Muslim, Bisexual, 33 years old. As a female person of color, I was always told that it was not okay to be bisexual and have same-sex partners.

Since starting my journey at Cisco in the beginning of 2021, I have felt the most supported at a workplace as I have been truthful about my queer identity.

My manager and extended team at Cisco have encouraged me, embraced me, and celebrated myself and other members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Since joining, I have participated in ERO spaces —Employee Resource Organizations and Networks—, and I have even been asked to co-lead the Cisco Pride Canada ERO, whose focus is intersectionality and how the LGBTQI+ community and other marginalized communities address important issues and lift each other up.

Franki G.C. - (They/Them) | Associate consultant, Bain & Company

I was still onboarding at Bain last year when we all went virtual. I decided to be fully out as non-binary before joining, but I had never had the experience of daily introducing my pronouns to several relative strangers (read: colleagues only ever seen on Zoom).

For my first few weeks, I was unsure of how to bring up my pronouns after initial introductions, or how to insist on their usage. A colleague, Lily, reached out and suggested a few ways she could support me in encouraging our team to use my pronouns correctly, such as messaging them directly when they got my pronouns wrong.

She also suggested adding pronouns to our Zoom names, and sent an email encouraging the entire cohort of grads to do the same. Fast-forward 18 months and pronouns are the norm in Zoom names for many at Bain.

Sarah Smith - (She/Her) | Lead Consultant, Thoughtworks Australia

During my time with Women Who Code, it became increasingly clear that intersectionality is hard and often misunderstood. I worked with many non-white women including some for whom English wasn’t their first language, running courses and helping some with cover letters, resumes, and other things.

Sometimes it was difficult to understand what was going on for them; and I worried they weren’t getting what they needed; however, we did our best to support them. Thoughtworkers involved with Women Who Code at the time helped me see how they were working in that area. It was so great to see what was happening. I later joined Thoughtworks and saw other queer folks in positions of responsibilty who had respect and were doing real work. I knew once I started working here, it was those people who made things better and they had Thoughtworks’ support.

Seeing diverse folks I could identify with really made a difference for me. Talking to them increased my understanding and appreciation that they were not being kept around as a token, but because they were good at their roles. It made me feel like I belonged there.

Anna Philbrick - (She/Her) | People Director, Octopus

After five years in the Civil Service, applying for roles in financial services was quite nerve-racking. Typically viewed as ‘very traditional’ and ‘boys clubs’, I was uneasy about disclosing my sexuality. Octopus couldn’t be further from that.

I vividly remember my first encounter where the interviewer, a woman, spoke openly about her wife which made me feel safe and confident to talk about my partner. This definitely wasn’t the case in other places I have worked where I would wait weeks, months or sometimes years to share that I was gay.

My fears were further alleged during my first week at Octopus when one of my new colleagues bounded up to me and invited me to the Octopus Pride party and march. From that point, I knew I didn’t need to worry about who I was or feel that I had to hide it.

Joanne Finney - (She/Her) | Experienced Operator/Labourer, Downer Utilities - Water Services South, Downer

After some time being employed by Downer, I had come out and been open about my sexual orientation as I began to bond with the crews I worked with.

I was then approached by the upper management with an opportunity to branch out and make more of an impact on a diversity platform. I was offered a position on the Diversity and Inclusion Council for Downer Utilities.

I can only assume that by my coming out and by how I conduct myself at work, made me afforded the opportunity.

Fostering a sense of respect and being valued within the company, not despite of, but because of (amongst other attributes) my being an out and proud member of the LGBTQI+ community.

Employee networks beyond a nice to have ERG

Tate Stuchbery - (She/Her) | Senior Consultant, People Advisory Services, EY

Being continually supported to drive events I am passionate about like Transgender Day of Visibility and many others across my time at EY, has been eye-opening to me. It has allowed me to express myself freely, regardless of my sexual identity, and feel respected and supported at work.

I felt so empowered to be able to bring in fantastic and inspiring speakers for that event. They were provided the opportunity to be vulnerable and open about their experiences in the Transgender community and the corporate context.

I felt like I worked for an organization that truly cares about diversity and understands the value and insight that is provided when hearing experiences that might be confronting or many people might be unaware of.

Sneha Sobti - (She/Her) | Electrical Design Engineer, Alstom

I am delighted that my proposal to have a visible support group for LGBTQI+ identifying employees and allies was accepted by the leadership team and support functions.

This year in June, which is celebrated as Pride month, I led the establishment of Pride Group and paved the way in creating a safe space for employees across all office locations in Alstom Australia. The group meets regularly for ongoing support and celebrates LGBTQI+ awareness events.

Lauren McGregor - (She/Her) | Renewals Sales Representative, Splunk

A time when I have felt supported is when the Employee Resource Groups began. The space and ability to share and hear stories of our collective experiences over people’s careers was very heartfelt.

It helped us understand that a lot of people had similar experiences of feeling like they might not belong. Everyone participated and listened intently to each other.

Maureen Dominey | Deputy Joint Head of Performance, Southeastern Railway

I recall my two-day induction where it was highlighted that there were colleague network groups set up, including one for LGBTQI+ employees. It was good to hear, firstly, that such a group existed and Southeastern were actively promoting.

It was good to know that there were enough LGBTQI+ people within the company to have an active group. Knowing that there are many others from the LGBTQI+ group employed by the company is reassuring and provided me with comfort that my time at work would be defined by me and not my sexuality.

Rachel Power - (She/Her) | Senior Analyst in Financial Advisory, Deloitte

This year, Deloitte ran an event partnering with Pride in Diversity which showcased the experiences of LGBTQI+ women and non-binary people in ‘women’s spaces’. Folks shared their stories of inclusion and exclusion, identity and community.

I was asked to share my story as the Deloitte speaker. It was a privilege to be given the opportunity to share my experiences, and it led to conversations about inclusion across our teams.

Rachel Rowe - (She/Her) | Management Consulting Manager, Accenture

Something that happened recently was when I was facilitating an internal Accenture Pride Ally training, and one of the people participating said they were really excited to be working for a company that had a pride network, as they had never worked for a company with a pride network before.

That really made me realize that there is a strong level of support for LGBTQI+ people at Accenture. Having started as a grad, Accenture was my first corporate job and my first experience of a pride network. 

The visible support of the network allowed me to feel comfortable coming out as a bisexual (or pansexual) woman not just at work but in my personal life as well. I feel very safe and supported by Accenture and the teams I work with.

Top tip to find a workplace that will support you

Find out more about the benefits, policies, and initiatives that the employers endorsed by WORK180 offer to support LGBTQI+ employees, from gender-neutral parental leave to Employee Resource Networks and Groups for underrepresented communities.

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Values beyond words

Ellie Tomkins - (They/Them) | Senior Consultant Developer, Thoughtworks Australia

I had been tentatively staffed on a project, but not long before I was due to start the client began running an ad campaign with mildly transphobic elements.

I didn’t feel that I could be comfortable working for a company that would be ok with that, and after a great deal of arguing with myself I raised this with our staffing team.

The best I had been hoping for, given what every other company I had worked with was like, was that my concerns would be noted and then nothing would change. Instead, I was staffed with an entirely different client, and assured that this issue would in fact be raised with the client.

This is probably the first time in my career that I’d ever had a company act as if my concerns were legitimate rather than an annoyance to work around or ignore!

Nerida Chambers - (She/Her) | Capability & Design Partner - Learning Delivery, Woolworths Group

Joining a new team is always a time that leaves one wondering, will I fit in? Will they ‘get’ me? As a gay woman, these feelings are often overwhelming and can manifest many self limiting beliefs. This is most certainly true for myself, having had many not so great experiences around acceptance and support throughout my career.

This all changed for me when I joined the Food Academy Learning Team at Woolworths Group. Through authentic leadership that centres around role modelling empathy, vulnerability and creating time for meaningful connection between the team, the feeling of safety and support is unlike any that I have ever experienced. 

What seems like small, insignificant moments, when repeated with determined consistency, make a huge difference. I have an overwhelming sensation of trust in this space and as a result, am thriving in a way that I have never before.

It is this type of leadership that creates the feeling of inclusion and safety, built on trust. If companies want their LGBTQI+ community members to thrive, this is the environment that will enable them.

Lilith La Rose - (She/Her) | Consultant Developer, Thoughtworks Australia

At my previous engagement, which also happened to be my first commercial engagement on a new account, a client asked Thoughtworks to implement a feature. I couldn’t shake the sense that the client’s request was similar to ‘redlining’, and so I worked up the courage to raise my concerns to our Client Leadership Team.

I said that I didn’t feel comfortable crossing this ethical line. The Thoughtworks team was very supportive and helped resolve the issue.

Jodie Van Boxtel - (She/Her) | Project Supervisor, AARNet (Australia's Academic and Research Network)

I have been working at AARNet for 18 months now and I can genuinely say that I have always felt supported and respected as an LGBTQI+ employee. My wife and I often talk about our values and whether we are living by them, this includes our careers and the values of the companies that we work for. 

I am so happy and proud that I work for a company that aligns with my values. AARNet is progressive and supportive of all its employees no matter what their background, it’s a workplace I feel completely comfortable and respected in.

Diverse and inclusive workforce beyond quotas

Sabrina Carmona - (She/Her) | Head of Farm Heroes Saga, King

For the longest time in my career I felt like I never fit in. I am a gay, Latin woman and I have been in a lot of situations where this was pointed out as a weakness. At King, this was considered an asset.

One example I can share is when my HR Director came to me to provide feedback on our interview process, making sure that there were no biases and that it was inclusive and constructive. The constant care about how we do things and why they matter is something that I experience constantly working in my organization and also something that I know we work really hard to continuously evolve.

King wants to improve the recruitment process, not just to hit a diversity target but to genuinely bring diverse talent because it enriches the organization.

Zoey Hewll - (She/Her, They/Them) | Graduate Software Engineer, Thales

The first thing that comes to mind for me is my initial interview, and my onboarding with Thales. I made clear during the interview that I’m transgender, and that I’m only interested in the job if they’re going to respect that.

My interviewers responded clearly and upfront that I’d be accepted here. My first manager was the local representative for the Diversity and Inclusion group, and was more than happy to introduce me to the team I’d be working with, explaining respectfully that I’m transgender and what that means for how they should refer to me.

I’ve never felt excluded, isolated, or othered in my four years here, but rather treated with the same respect that I see extended to my co-workers.

Sarah Roberts - (She/Her) | Senior Manager Fraud Prevention, Bank of Queensland

Having transitioned at my previous workplace, this was the first time I was entering a new workplace as my authentic self (with no prior history of my ‘other’ self). I feel that, like other transgender people and cis-women can feel, I am highly conscious of how I are perceived by others.

The pressure I have, at times, placed on myself to be ‘passable’ or how I present, often weighs heavily on my mind. However, at no stage through the recruitment or start of my new employment did I feel being a transgender woman was a ‘huge deal’. 

Given that being transgender is only one part (of many) that helps define who I am, this was so reassuring. I have felt accepted as “Sarah”, who is equal parts transgender, woman, lesbian, girlfriend supporter, gamer, weeb, crime fighter, and puppy carer. I feel that all parts of me are respected and heard, all the way from senior executives to my team.

Beth Dowling-Jones - (She/Her) | Sales Partner, BNY Mellon

I’ve worked in banking for over two decades now – many of these years have been in the City. When I started my career, I was firmly padlocked inside my closet. It was difficult enough to fit in as a woman, let alone to muddy the waters by coming out as lesbian too. I wasn’t good enough at golf or cricket, to feel like I could fit in around my cis, heterosexual, predominantly white male colleagues.
*Photograph by Fiona Freund

I’ve seen so many barriers removed in that time. Gradually we have crept towards a more thoughtful, more inclusive and empathetic agenda, allowing a far broader and diverse workforce to join us here in our wonderful square mile. The balance of people is still visibly unequal – men to women, white to people of color, able bodied to those with disabilities, and invisibly too, for those of us in the LGBTQI+ community – but the willingness for change is there, and that’s significant.

It’s hugely important for both my wife and I that, in our industries (TV and banking), and in our London, we really see diversity and we keep on challenging what is ‘normal’. Our kids may end up working in London (or France, or America, or Space) – and we need to ensure that our daughter and our youngest child have every opportunity available to them to celebrate exactly who they were born to be, without constraint or hesitation around sexual preference or gender conformity. We have come a long way. May our City continue to thrive and may the rivers of people who flow through it, grow increasingly rich in their diversity.

Employee support beyond traditional policies

Tracey Regimbal - (She/Her) | Global Head of Marketing and Communications for STRIPES ERG, Philip Morris International

I have recently been through a queer fertility process. My employer has been incredibly supportive of this journey from the very beginning. 

This has been very reassuring and made me feel secure, heard and respected.

Ceci Williams - (She/Her) | Customer Service Specialist, Melbourne, CommBank

CommBank has recently implemented gender affirmation leave. It was nice to know that I didn’t need to stress about whether all of my existing annual leave would cover the amount of time away.

Having access to this leave has empowered me to continue my transition. Working here for less than two years, I’ve really been made to feel like I belong at work.

Is your workplace ready to join the conversation around intersectionality and LGBTQI+** support?

WORK180 doesn’t just promote great workplaces for women* — we help create them too! That’s why we have a range of free resources to help you implement progressive policies you can be proud of. To receive a monthly round-up of these resources and more, sign up to our Newsletter.

*by women, we mean all who identify and/or experience oppression as a woman (including cis, trans, intersex, non-binary or gender non-conforming individuals).

**You may have noticed we use the LGBTQI+* acronym throughout the article. We acknowledge LGBTQIA+ is also used in the UK and Australia. Check out our Diversity and Inclusion Glossary to understand the variations and definitions of these acronyms. 

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