Lesbians in the Workplace: We’re Here, We’re Queer—Are you used to us?

Colleen R. Logan, PhD  |  Senior Consultant, AAG

This question seems like a “no-brainer”, yet it is relevant to raise. Why? There is an assumption that women in leadership  are  tough, rigid, and harsh in their demeanor. Moreover, if you buy into the rampant stereotype that any woman who is an executive or position of authority is a man-hater and/or butch/manly then all female administrators must be lesbian. Right? Yes, this is as ludicrous as it sounds but this is indeed the context that women in leadership must contend with daily. For women who do not identify as lesbian this is a stereotype that is easier to dismiss and/or ignore. For women who do identify as lesbian this can be not only challenging but it is indeed stifling and just plain exhausting.

For many lesbians, the ongoing internal dialogues go something like this: Should I come out/live out in terms of who I am and who I love, or will this have a detrimental effect on my career trajectory? We all know that prejudice still exists, and a woman could lose her job, be passed over, or simply ignored. Alternatively, one asks herself: Do I come out/live out and risk not being taken seriously because if I identify as lesbian then I will be reduced solely to a sexual being, fodder for titillating jokes, innuendos, and certainly never taken seriously. To be honest, to most lesbians, neither path sounds palatable.

And where are our role models?  It is hard to believe but it has only been four short years since Beth Ford became the first openly CEO to run the Fortune 500 company, Land of Lakes. Though the event was newsworthy, this reality alone is stunning and disheartening. Not surprisingly, there are very few openly LGBTQ University presidents. In 2010, Dr. Charlita Shelton, President of the University of Rockies— at the time, she was one of only twenty-five openly gay or lesbian university presidents. This lack of representation is not limited to the United States. Inga Beale is the first openly bisexual business leaders at her level in the United Kingdom. In 2014 she became the first woman CEO in Lloyd’s of London’s 327-year history. And in 2017, the Queen named her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her service to the economy and activism supporting women and the LGBTQ+ community.

So, here is the choice: stay in the closet, hide who you are, who you love and climb the corporate ladder. Disclaimer: you will still face the stereotypes faced by women in leadership that you are probably a man-hater, , aggressive, and ruthless. Or, come out, be who you are, share your life with whom you love, and risk marginalization, discrimination, and harassment. Quite frankly, again, both options are exhausting and serve to dissuade women from bringing their authentic selves to work impacting the bottom line—productivity and performance.

What is the answer? Women empowering women, women accepting women, inclusivity, women building each other up rather than breaking each other down. Who we love and who we are impacts how we work not only in terms of how we are seen and valued, but whether we really belong.

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