Living Corporate in the “Proverbial Closet”

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My introduction into corporate America’s version of diversity and inclusion in 2006 was at the pinnacle of my career in financial services. And boy, was it an eye-opening situation.

I was recently promoted from Personal Banker to District Manager within the company and was on cloud 9, to say the least. Overnight my salary more than doubled — and I no longer was responsible for a team of one but a team of nearly 200 individuals. On top of that, I had a book of business to manage that was valued at nearly one billion dollars. I was experiencing a series of “YO!” and “YIKES!” moments all at the same time. I was excited to walk into new territory but nervous to have so much authority.

Shortly thereafter my promotion, my manager nominated me to be a part of the company’s diversity council. This was a group of middle-managers and senior-level executives whose goal was to improve diversity and inclusion initiatives within the workplace. To say I was ecstatic is an understatement...until I received the application.

Let’s press pause right here for a quick background story.

During onboarding, my manager shared with a good friend of mine who also served as the recruiting liaison TMI (too much information). He expressed how excited he was that my promotion was approved because the residual effects of my promotion meant he was able to “check the box” of having a black, lesbian woman on his team.

Side note: Clearly another blog is needed to address “How to have Courageous Conversations as a Manager Leader.” What I know for sure is that his heart was pure, he simply lacked understanding. Only colleagues that I considered friends and this particular manager knew of my sexual orientation. But I digress.

Now, back to the application.

It captured the normal data like, age, religious belief, ethnicity, sexual orientation... <SAY WHAT?!?>

I freaked out! All I could think about was the fact that this application was asking wayyy to much and would reveal something that I did not care to share at the time.

I immediately called the Human Resources (HR) representative who spearheaded the council and explained my reservations about “outing” myself to peers and senior executives. See, my career was on a fast track. I had made Vice President by 27 in a predominately white-male industry. I was convinced I’d be committing career suicide if I shared my sexual orientation with the people I was being groomed to become their successor. The HR representative

reminded me that the very purpose of the council was to highlight occurrences like mine – to create a safe workplace for all team members. She also expressed confidently that my experiences as a young, black woman, who happened to be a lesbian, would be impactful.

What she shared with me was all well and good but...I wasn’t convinced!

I picked up the phone and called my sounding board, my big sister. She said something so profound that I’ve used as a guide ever since: “Kay, if your performance is overshadowed by who you love then you don’t want to work for that kind of company.” Man! My big sister was right! I completed the application with courage and ease. And at our first meeting we publicly identified gender, sexual orientation, all the other corporate taboos that once kept us bound. In that meeting, I entered the LGBTQ circle with pride.

Opposite to what I imagined, the reactions I received to “coming out” were warm and welcoming. I received hand written notes from fellow senior council members thanking me for sharing my personal experiences. They shared that our interactions helped them navigate courageous conversations within their line of business and at home.

I’m living proof that my life didn’t suffer because I shared my truth. As a matter of fact, my quality of life improved — there’s nothing like releasing emotional weight.

My career was unscathed, and I received several promotions since that defining moment not just professionally but personally. That moment fostered safe space for me to embrace my uniqueness which allowed me to fully express myself. My performance grew overall, and my team’s performance improved exponentially. As a result, several team members were promoted and secured sales and service trips! My whole team was winning.

“National Coming Out Day” is Thursday, October 11th. So, before you make the choice not to celebrate it, remember that day is a celebration of who you are—everywhere and every day. Better yet, every day can be a “National Coming Out Day” when you choose to truly bring your whole self everywhere.

What’s the moral of the story? The proverbial closet isn’t exclusive to the LGBTQ community. Your “closet” could be military status or mental illness. As a human being, you have the right and the privilege to bring your whole self everywhere, every day. Now, I share with you the same advice that was once given to me by my big sister, “if your performance is overshadowed by who you love then you don’t want to work for that kind of company.”

Adopt this quote and mantra that has served me well as you journey through life. “Be Yourself. Everyone Else Is Already Taken.” -- Oscar Wilde

Khaliah Guillory is on a quest to fuel her passion and fulfill her purpose. At the core, she is a Performance Productivity Expert, Lover of Humanity, and Philanthropist. These are a few words that describe her contribution to the universe.

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Living Corporate