36 AUTUMN 2016 STANFORD BUSINESS ORGANIZATIONS
Photograph by David Robert Elliott
Leaders Come Out
Tips for making the move toward openness.
BY KATHERINE CONRAD
More than half of all people who are gay do
not disclose their sexual identity at work,
says the Human Rights Campaign, an
advocacy group for the LGBTQ community.
Clearly, coming out still carries risk —
even in 2016 — but so does staying in the
closet, says J.D. Schramm, a lecturer at
Revealing one’s sexual identity on the
job requires careful consideration,
Schramm notes. But he says through his
own experiences and as an observer that
living life openly and honestly — what he
calls “leading out loud” — has served him
not only professionally, but also personally.
He shared some of his insights in a recent
webinar about communication strategies
for LGBTQ leaders.
“Every LGB TQ person has one thing in
common with every other LGBTQ person,
and that is the journey that we’ve all gone
on in order to be ready to communicate
who we are,” he says. “Coming out is not
a moment in time, it is a process. But it’s
still a personal choice. I think it’s best, but
it’s not my decision to make for others.”
Schramm, who taught an LGB T
Executive Leadership Program this
summer at Stanford GSB, says despite all
the progress in gay rights issues, the odds
are still stacked against the community.
But as gay leaders take control of their own
stories, the climate has steadily improved.
He points to Raymond Braun, who received
both a bachelor’s and master’s from Stanford
University, as an example. As an employee
at Google, Braun originated You Tube’s
award-winning LGBTQ strategy, which
served as inspiration for Google’s broader
diversity marketing efforts. Forbes named
him to its 30 Under 30 All-Stars list in 2016,
and Out magazine named him one of the
100 most influential LGBTQ people in the
world. Today Braun runs his own company
and works as a broadcast and social media
correspondent on social justice issues.
LGBTQ leaders have several options
for how they control their stories: They
can be artificial or authentic, private or
transparent. For instance, someone might
choose to be private at work but out among
friends. Another person might behave
very provocatively but lack authenticity —
Schramm points to Liberace as an example.
“You can lead from any box,” Schramm
says. “But you can lead stronger if you lead
For those considering coming out at
work, Schramm offers a few suggestions.
First, before you even join a company,
consider how it works with its LGB TQ
employees. Some companies protect LGBTQ
status and actively recruit candidates.
A company’s transparency during the
interview process can help prospective
employees understand how open a culture
is and tap into a network of gay leaders to
navigate a new job effectively.
If you’re ready to come out in your current
job, Schramm offers these suggestions:
● Consider where you live, where you
work, and your industry. Some parts of
the country or industries might not be
as welcoming as others, and you should
weigh this in your decision.
● Privately share with a smaller group of
key colleagues to gauge reactions.
● Look for your best allies in the straight
world, articulate your goals, and let
them mentor you.
● Consider more indirect ways to come out,
such as featuring your leadership roles
or affinity with LGBTQ groups on your
LinkedIn profile or resume.
● Bring your significant other to a work
event where spouses and partners
● If you have a bio on the company website,
add a line about your spouse and family.
● If single, find simple ways to share stories
about your life. For example, “When
my ex-boyfriend and I went to London
…” “When I was a leader in the undergrad
gay pride group …” These sorts of
conversations allow a person to come out
without “coming out” being the focus.
● Seek out gay leaders in senior
management who have a transparent
presence. Having somebody who has
blazed the trail can be a huge asset.
Schramm has faced this decision
himself. When he arrived at Stanford in 2007
as a lecturer, he says he chose a simple but
effective way to telegraph who he was when
he posted his online bio that referenced his
Living transparently, Schramm
discovered, brings rewards beyond feeling
more authentic at work. T wo years ago,
he and his husband believed they were about
to welcome a new baby into the world.
A woman in Texas had agreed to allow the
couple to adopt her newborn. They flew to the
Lone Star State only to learn the mother had
changed her mind. Devastated, Schramm’s
husband blogged about their grief. A couple
in California’s Central Valley read the story
and offered to conceive a baby for Schramm
and his husband. Now, they are the proud
parents of a baby girl and teenage boy whom
they adopted from foster care.
“We couldn’t have predicted how people
would respond to our blog post,” Schramm
says. “Because we were willing to step
out and share not only the joys but the
setbacks — by leading out loud — it brought
our heart’s desire in a way far beyond our
J.D. Schramm is the MBA Class
of 1978 Lecturer in Organizational
Behavior at Stanford GSB.