We need to have an honest conversation with our teams, we need to talk about diversity and inclusion as an integral part of our work ethics and not only as a trending topic in June. Let’s bring down stereotypes that only prevent us from connecting on a higher level with our teams, colleagues and friends.
Someone once told me “you should share your story,” and I asked “why?” There is nothing special about mine compared to most coming-out stories of anxiety, fear of discrimination, and complex journeys of acceptance.
Also, I am one of the lucky ones: I have a very supporting and loving family and a group of friends that have always felt like brothers. So, why should I tell my story when so many others deserve to be heard before me?
That’s when it hit me – I have to tell my story so others feel enabled to tell theirs, and more stories can have an impact on so many more LGBT+ lives and transform our workplace into a place that no only accepts diversity but encourages it. A workplace where, no matter how different you are, you feel that you can thrive.
While my family was loving and supportive, it was still based on catholic and, to some extent, conservative values, in the backdrop of a small city in the heart of the central Andean Mountains in Western Colombia. As you can imagine, cultural and social progressivism wasn’t exactly part of the conversation. I grew up believing that there was only one version of happiness and success, and that it was my duty to comply with that version even though it had nothing to do with how I really felt inside. I pushed myself so hard for so many years that I reached that tipping point that no one wants to experience but sadly most of us have. I believe that I pushed so hard for that version of the “right” path in life because it was the only thing that I was told about and exposed to; I didn’t have anything else to relate to or to look up to.
I always have been a very proactive person and in my younger years I was a good student, meaning that I was always involved in several activities in my college years and later in my job. But there was always a barrier between me and the others: you don’t want your classmates, or your colleagues to get too close because you feel threatened, like you’re in danger. I felt very strongly this one sentiment: if they find out, I will stop being “me” in their eyes and all they will see is “the gay guy.”
I had severe
anxiety, both in college and then in the workplace, worrying at all times that if
people found out about my sexual orientation, I wouldn’t be measured by my performance
and professional skills but by something that had nothing to do with my job. It
was like working a double shift, not only did you have to focus on your job, but
you also had to make sure that this part of you didn’t become a barrier in your
This feeling has
decreased dramatically as I have spent more years in the company. How I feel
today is almost incomparable to how I felt when I joined Siemens 4 years ago as
an intern – I am sure you can tell just by the fact that I was able to write the
words you are reading now.
So, what changed? Did people change? Actually, I have changed. I have been working with the same great colleagues since I joined the company. With time, I realized that all that fear of being discriminated against in the workplace was mostly in my head. As I feared falling into the gay stereotype, I was myself stereotyping everyone that was working with me, assuming that they would reject me and use something so personal against me. I was doing to my colleagues what I feared the most: judgment. Why is that? Because I was perceiving only one version of the “right” path in the workplace, and that version not only included my performance but also my perception of how I should look, behave and what I like. In a way, just as when I was younger, I didn’t have anything else to relate to, or a role model to look up to in my closest professional environment.
On that note, I want to make an invitation. If you have ever felt like at any point in your life like me, speak up and dare bring your whole self to the workplace. If you have felt the lack of role models in your life, dare to become one for younger generations that join our teams. And if you consider yourself an ally, have an honest conversation with your team and speak up about diversity & inclusion. Inclusion goes beyond words; let’s live it as an integral part of our work ethics and not only as a trending topic in June. Let’s bring down stereotypes that only prevent us from connecting on a higher level with our teams, colleagues and friends.
Let’s show everyone that we are all our own version of successful and inspiring people.
My name is Jose Bejarano, I am based in Mexico City, and I am responsible for Market Intelligence & Innovation in Siemens Energy Regional Operations Latin America.
I am proudly gay.