Pride Month is a time for celebration, but it’s also an opportunity to look critically at how welcome LGBTQ workers feel in their workplaces. According to a recent Glassdoor survey of LGBTQ employees, half of respondents reported they were fearful of consequences of being out at work, such as being passed over for promotions.
In this interview for The Work in Progress video series, Fast Company spoke with two executives in the business world who have made a name for themselves as LGBTQ leaders: Jen Wong and Marty Chavez.
WATCH: The future of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace
Wong, who took over at Reddit as COO in 2018, has overseen the company’s impressive trajectory in advertising growth. But she wasn’t always out at work. “[Early in my career, I] didn’t openly share about my personal life, because I didn’t feel safe being a junior person,” she says. “[When] I went to business school, that was the first time I met other gay professionals, and suddenly there were people who are out and not out. And that was interesting to hear about their life experience; you could see the topography.”
Seeing more openly queer people in a business setting sparked something for Wong. “That seemed pretty amazing, if that could happen for me. That started to motivate me. And when I started to go into operating and working in consumer media and tech, I realized that that was possible for me. That’s when I started to bring my full self to the table as a leader, came out, and shared more about my life.”
Marty Chavez, who spent decades at Goldman Sachs and is now a senior adviser at Sixth Street, had a somewhat different experience. “I think rather than having concluded that it was a gay-friendly place, it might’ve been more accurate to say that Goldman Sachs in those days didn’t care if I was gay or straight—as long as I was really good at math and software,” he says.
Chavez started his career working in tech and energy in Silicon Valley before joining the banking giant, and did initially feel inclined to join a less welcoming industry. “I didn’t have a particular need to change. And I didn’t see any reason to go back into the closet just to work at some company in New York.”
But over time, he started to see the finance industry awaken to change and begin to embrace inclusivity—in the name of profit or otherwise. “Two things, which started happening at scale maybe 10 to 15 years ago, [were] Wall Street made the commercial argument for diversity and then connected that to [employees having workplace] allies.”
Like Wong, Chavez says it’s critical for LGBTQ people to be able to be themselves at work and show they’re “a whole person,” he says. “I just picked up [this advice] from a pillar of LGBT rights, which is, ‘Come out wherever you are.'”
To this day, Chavez keeps the words of his mother in mind, who once told him to lean into his identity and show up as his true self wherever possible. “The best thing I can do is represent and be successful and be happy. People will see that, and that will speak more loudly than any policy.”