While it is illegal in South Africa to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of sexual orientation, this continues to happen on a daily basis. The decision to come out at work is yours alone to make and if you do, here are some tips to help make it a success for you.

Corporate Culture

Before you come out, take a look at which companies are gay-friendly and also make sure you check their anti-discrimination clause. If sexual orientation is listed, it will likely indicate that they are at least sympathetic to the GLBT population.

Comfort Level

Now take a good look within yourself. Examine your motives. Are you being pushed into this by a partner or by friends, or are you doing this for yourself. The key is, you should be at a real point of comfort with your sexual orientation before taking this step.

At that level of self acceptance you will exude a calm exterior that will be reassuring to your co-workers. If you are comfortable and accepting of yourself, others will be more at ease with you too.

Have a Back-up Plan

Make sure you are ready for whatever will come. Even if company policy is favourable, it doesn’t mean every individual in the workplace will be accepting—including your supervisor. You may be able to keep your job, but if you are getting the cold shoulder from co-workers, will you want to?

If things get really uncomfortable for you are there other jobs in the area? The alternative is sticking it out with a tough skin and using your charming personality to change people’s perceptions over time. Most people will adjust to your news given time.

Pick an Ally

Choose someone you have a good rapport with—a close work friend, an HR rep or even your supervisor. Come out to that person first and win their support. When you start coming out to others, this person will act behind the scenes to talk things over in a positive way with anxious co-workers.

Quality Work

If there is any question at all that your supervisor will discriminate against you, make sure your work is up to snuff! If you have not been doing your job well and your supervisor is already annoyed with you, don’t hand him an excuse to get rid of you.

Yes, this may seem unfair, but really, you are getting paid for quality work, so just do it! Good workers are not always easy to find. If your skills are valuable to the company and to your supervisor, they will want to retain your services.

Normalise It

When I decided to come out at work, I took the passive approach. I told the office gossip and figured that everyone would know within the hour. As it turned out, she didn’t tell a soul, which in retrospect was a good thing!

Now being older and wiser, my coming out at work simply entails openness about my life. No speeches or announcements. If someone asks what my weekend plans, I matter-of-factly state I am spending time with my partner. In other words, I have normalised my approach. Over time people have gotten the idea I’m a lesbian in a gentle, non-threatening way and there have been no repercussions that I am aware of.

You now have some tools and ideas for coming out in the workplace. Remember the basics: check your company policy, make sure you are at a good comfort level, be prepared for anything, have an ally and normalise the process.

As with any coming out experience, if you are able to successfully manage it, you will find yourself more at ease with your environment and more at peace with yourself. Good luck!

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