23 March 2020

Talking Privilege and Sexual Orientation


Talking privilege is a blog series for MiQ employees to discuss different kinds of privilege and the ways they affect work and life in general. Privilege can be a hard topic to discuss. Many people who benefit from privilege on a daily basis aren’t aware their privilege exists. And people with less of the unearned power that privilege affords often have less power within their business too. 

We started this blog series to reflect on the different types of privilege we all need to be aware of in MiQ, in our industry, and in society at large. 

By Matthew Engstrom, Global Head of Product Marketing, MiQ

I am a gay man. I am a gay man and I’m also a working professional. In a couple paragraphs, I’ll talk about why that specific statement is a really big deal to me.

When I began to think about what privilege means for me, I immediately started thinking about the negative experiences I’ve had in the workplace as it relates to my sexual orientation. But, after thinking about what privilege means for me specifically, I realized it’s actually much more complex. Privilege, as we’ve come to understand it, is particularly nefarious because it masks itself to those who have it.

In addition to being gay, I’m also a white man working in tech. I can’t talk about privilege from the perspective of an immigrant, a person of color, a woman, or someone with a disability. Being white and male has no doubt afforded me privilege throughout my career: opportunities for promotion, having colleagues lean in when I talk, compensation, career optionality, and more are all more accessible to me.

It’s incredible to be able to say “I am gay” out loud. It’s even more incredible to author a blog around just that topic to be placed on our corporate website. When I first started my career after college, I don’t think I would have imagined that this opportunity was possible and that I would have the confidence to openly talk about my experiences as a gay professional. Being open to your friends, family, and colleagues is in itself a privilege most who identify as straight don’t think about. 

When I was a teenager, the idea of gay marriage seemed unobtainable. Now, we can legally marry, adopt, and live publicly without fear of legal repercussions. Being gay has made my life unique and allowed me to be a part of a strong community that truly can weather anything. However, the workplace has always been a bit trickier for the LGBTQI+ community. 

Right now, in many US states, you can still be legally fired for being gay. Being out is therefore inherently a significant professional risk for many LGBTQI+ people in America. I’ve been lucky enough to work in states where that hasn’t been the case, but I still used to be extremely apprehensive to be out in the workplace. Many times, I felt outside of a club I didn’t really belong to. Hearing the F-word dropped (and not the four letter one) in the office or having someone proclaim “no homo” after saying something otherwise endearing, were clear signs I was not welcome to sit at that table.

Outside of aggressions and microaggressions, I’ve experienced anxiety of not being taken seriously and thus, concern of a lack of opportunity for advancement. With my friends, outside the office, common interests around where we go out, who we date, what we watch on TV, even interests in movies and literature, aren’t always reflected in my professional environment. I found it hard to find that common nexus of connection. That connection can be so important to success in your role or opening new doors for you in the future. Professionally, that common ground means a lot.

Everyone is assumed to be straight until proven gay. Straight people don’t have to come out. Even now, I usually approach the topic by dropping subtle hints about being on a date with a guy or talking about getting drinks at a well-known gay bar the night before. I’ve never been more comfortable with who I am, but the process of coming out to a new set of colleagues is something that I always think about. 

I’m still very lucky. I have co-workers that are welcoming and warm, and I am in a working environment where being gay is effectively normalized. But, my career began 15 years ago, and those during those 15 years rapid social change has occurred around LGBTQI+ rights and societal acceptance. Every gay professional experiences things differently, dependent upon where they live and how long they’ve been part of the workforce. I’ve learned, over time and through experience, to overcome the feeling I need to subvert my sexual orientation, and am now more authentic as a person, as a man, as a professional, and as myself. 

For those early in their careers, whose experience has commonalities to my own, I say if you work in a safe environment, remember that you can bring your authentic self into your work a little more each day. You can talk about all aspects of your life with your colleagues just as someone might talk about the Yankees next to the metaphorical water cooler. The more you show confidence in yourself, the more you elevate normalization. It paves a path for those who come after you to follow. (Plus, diversity is actually good for business.) If you are in a situation where coming out can result in repercussions, there are plenty of gay professional groups you can reach out to and find advice and mentorship outside of work. 

Being out at work is not and will not always be easy; however, I’m optimistic that each year new LGBTQI+ protections, better understanding, and greater normalization across states will continue to bring about change...especially to those who still face legalized discrimination. I can say through my own experience that it does and will get easier. For me, it was just tapping into my own confidence as a professional and extending that confidence to be out and proud in both my personal and professional life. 


You can read more in the Privilege & Race blog series by following these links: