Dear Kate – December 2015

Dear Kate,

I am in my last year of my program and am starting to think about preparing to go out and get a job I love. I am very involved in queer organizations on campus, but have never been out in a professional situation. I am not sure what to do about putting this involvement on my resume, particularly because they comprise most of my relevant recent leadership experience. While I don’t want to work in a place where my sexuality would be an issue, I am not sure how it would affect the application process. On a resume, I know I can use acronyms, but in interviews etc. it would likely come up – Thoughts?

– Back in the Professional Closet


Dear Back in the Professional Closet,

This is a tough one and very individual for each person. What might feel right for one person won’t feel as comfortable for another. I know the job market is tough right now…but would you really want to work anywhere where your sexuality is an issue? Where people would look at your resume and instead of seeing a candidate who has done interesting leadership experience and service commitments focus on where that leadership experience is? In some ways it actually might be an asset. A lot more places are talking about diversity in one form and another and trying to promote it. I know that places have been interested in my background with minority and women’s mentoring in STEM. So one way of looking at this is turning it around saying this is how I like to mentor/work with minorities. Frankly I think if you frame it like that it becomes very strong.

To turn down a potential job offer can be a luxury for a lot of people. If that is the case, totally understandable, then tailor your CV for specific job applications. Frankly I think it should be fine to keep that on the CV — it shows your commitment to leadership and service that other applicants may not have (another way of setting you apart). In conversation focus on how this benefits diversity and serving a minority group. And decide before the interview how much you want to say about yourself. Especially in academia people interviewers can be bad about asking personal questions (sometimes innocently, aka they just want to know you better, other times not so much). So make sure you know where you stand and what you want to say before hand because I find that makes the process easier.


Good luck with everything!

– Kate O

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Dear Professional,

You pose a great, rich question that many folx don’t need to consider. With the legalization of same-sex marriage comes the layered complexity of employment discrimination given that there are currently 18 states where sexual orientation or gender identity are not protected from employment discrimination and, where they are protected, this may depend on the total number of employees within the organization. I suggest early research on whether the employer has a non-discrimination statement inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This could be one factor that helps you determine how (or whether) to proceed with that application.

One good resource that may help with your US company research is the HRC Corporate Equality Index that rates American workplaces on LGBT equality: link

It’s also worth noting that, while employers might (sub)consciously make such an assumption, indicating your affiliation with these organizations doesn’t necessarily mean identifying with any particular identity. It all depends on how it’s worded on your application materials and responses during an interview. There are various sources on the internet regarding illegal interview questions and how to strategically respond to them if you’re not comfortable being straightforward. While they might ask you for clarification on information you’ve already provided (whether written or verbally), you can decide how to frame the way you talk about it. Some people have also chosen to notify references in advance and asked them to keep their involvements intentionally vague yet specific (a professional development group for women, or a social organization for underrepresented students, etc.), or associating their involvement with a larger umbrella organization for some stealth; for example, at MIT the Rainbow Lounge is affiliated with the Student Activities Office, which allows students some flexibility.

You may consider researching or asking about employee resource/affinity groups, as there may be an opportunity for you to continue being involved with queer organizations through your employer. Inquiring about organizational culture and employee and partner benefits that may be important to you now or in the future (such as health insurance, parental leave and fertility/adoption benefits, name changes, etc.) will also give you perspective to inform your decision. There may already be information available on the internet — if not through the employer themselves then possibly through personal blogs or message boards in which employees, clients, or other stakeholders have shared their experiences.

Ultimately, the choice to participate in the process is continuously yours to make. Each step is a series of ongoing personal decisions based on the full range of context that only you know for yourself. Some people may have the time and ability to temporarily lean on others for help throughout the job search until the perfect and most comfortable opportunity arises, others may need to make decisions that challenge some of their values in order to survive or support their immediate and/or chosen families, and more may have additional circumstances influencing them. Hopefully, whatever comes of the process, you can find support to help you feel fulfilled, heard, and seen.

Wishing you the best,

LBGTQ@MIT

Dear Back in the Professional Closet,


I think this post by Lily Zhang at MIT might be really helpful as a place to start.


I’m a semi-retired CEO, having spent 30 years in tech. I’ve seen thousands of resumes and conducted countless interviews over the years. I encourage job-seekers/applicants to use the resume to get in the door. The goal is to get the interview, so less is probably more on personal interests. Then if you are comfortable, share and discuss your organizations / involvement during the interview process. This communication is always best in person, once there is some rapport. For example, guns and gun control are certainly controversial. I know that many employees in my companies are/have been involved with guns (some were ex-military), hunting and probably the gun lobby – but I cannot recall a candidate who put NRA member on a resume. 


– Kate W


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Dear Back in the Professional Closet,


While acceptance of gay people has increased dramatically in recent times, I think it would be unwise to mention your involvement with gay activist groups in your professional resume, interviews etc. Please remember that the university environment is much more liberal than the world at large; ask any of your former student colleagues now in the work world….it’s quite a shock to make the transition from the tolerant school world to the less enlightened business world.


You could mention your leadership experience without identifying specific groups, saying that they were student organizations. Including reference to LBGTQ activist involvement on a professional resume can signal a major focus on your personal world ahead of the professional. I think it’s useful to remember that you don’t know who will be reading your resume and once it’s sent, you can never retrieve it, so caution can not be overemphasized. 


– Kate K

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