Come Out at Work: With Two Jobs

The New York Times recently missed an opportunity to talk about bringing your whole self to work, as writer Michael R. Gordon wrote a piece about the work life of David Richardson, yet didn’t challenge the subject’s assertions that his two professions are mutually exclusive. Here’s the story.

Lt. Col. David Richardson in his own words is a “painter who fights.”  He’s an artist showing his colorful Expressionist paintings in a Georgetown gallery through the end of January, and in February he’ll be deployed to work with Afghan security forces. Unfortunately, he doesn’t view his disparate occupations–artist and Marine–as integrable, even though they’re both extensions of himself.

Directly from “Faithful to Two Worlds: The Marines and the Artistic Life”:

Colonel Richardson does acknowledge the considerable influence of his tours of duty in Asia on his painting. During a tour in South Korea, for example, he had small canvases made for him by a local carpenter, hauled them back to his studio on his bicycle, painted symbols on the individual squares and then clamped them together to form larger works, which comprise part of his “R Series” on display in Washington DC. The faint arrows, similar to the directional markings on a tactical map, are one of the rare carry-overs from his military world.

Interestingly, his mother is an artist who paints landscapes and flowers, and his father had been a Navy diver in World War II.

Now, the catalog for the show mentions his travels to Japan and Korea, but at his request never suggests that his military service took him there. As well, during the long lulls between patrols when he and his Marines were holed up with Iraqi troops in a dilapidated soap factory in Fallujah, he never hinted that he had a passion for art.

By his own account he has long led a double existence. “It’s been pretty compartmentalized,” he said about his two lives.”  “My father taught me to talk the talk. You don’t talk about art with the Marines, and you don’t talk about the Marines with artists.”

So it sure would be tidy to blame his father for limiting his worldview. Yet as an adult, he bears some responsibility to challenge what he’s been taught. At the same time, his gestalt smacks of the restrictions imposed by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Clearly, these two distinct areas of work are related — within Colonel Richardson. Yet it’s difficult for him to work openly as a Marine and a painter. While we acknowledge that the stress of war impacts each troops’ state of mind in complicated ways, we have a hypothesis that if Col. Richardson were to come out in both worlds, his openness and mindfulness would make him a better artist and a better Marine.

Do you lead two or more distinct professional lives? What are the challenges you face in integrating them?

Image via

Cindy McCain Waffles, Conceals Self

It takes a certain strength and conviction to express yourself in direct opposition to your high-powered spouse. Yet strength and conviction doesn’t seem to be what Cindy McCain has.

Just as we were about to describe Cindy McCain’s engagement of her whole self at work as she took a clear stand against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”–a policy her husband John McCain supports–see video above, she logged into her Twitter and reclaimed her privilege as a U.S. Senator’s wife.  She tweeted, “I fully support the NOH8 campaign and all it stands for and am proud to be a part of it. But I stand by my husband’s stance on DADT.”

How possible is it to support one and simultaneously stand by the other?  We wonder what she truly believes.

She makes being forthright look very difficult. Well, because it is.

Have you contradicted yourself at work? What happened?

What Would the Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Mean for You?

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Comptroller Robert Hale | Sec of Defense Robert Gates | Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
The American workplace will likely be getting sexier. And more productive.

In a report headed for President Obama’s desk, the Pentagon concluded there is minimal risk to lifting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.  Indeed earlier this week Defense Secretary Robert Gates said repealing the ban is inevitable. Yay!

So the leadership of one of the largest and most powerful organizations in the world–which historically has forced its members into the closet–will be saying it’s OK to bring your sexual identity, of any stripe, to work.

What does this mean for the American workplace as a whole?

On an unconscious–yet very real–level, it will give the rest of us permission to bring our own sexual identity, of any stripe, to our place of work. It may take a while to experience, yet the freedom to exist as sexual beings at work may spark a wave of increased productivity across the nation.

Sounds crazy? Pop singer Ricky Martin felt “a floodgate of energy and creativity just really exploded” after he came out as a gay man, according to his producer Desmond Child. Proclaiming his sexuality to the public, essentially his work environment, has directly impacted his output. His memoir Me is currently among the Top 100 Amazon “Bestsellers in Books.”

One problem in considering the broader implications of bringing sexy back to the workplace is our inclination to quash feelings of sex on the job. Rather than prompting cases of harassment or extra-marital affairs, our sexual energy can be harnessed in service of our task, as long as we’re grounded in our humanity. This may take the form of bringing us closer to our colleagues or clients, for example, and making our day-to-day moments more fun. Imagine this!

Sexuality in the workplace is a complex issue, and one we will continue to explore.

In what ways have you accessed your sexual energy in service of a work task?

Photo of Martin via

Let’s Talk about Sex(uality)

This story has legs — last week’s Village Voice featured Elizabeth Dwoskin’s cover story “Too Hot for Citibank?” about Debrahlee Lorenzana, a strikingly attractive young woman who claims to have been fired from the financial services firm for being too sexy. Since the story’s initial publication, the New York Post, Gawker and The Early Show (whose video is embedded above) have joined the discussion, and yesterday in The New York Times Maureen Dowd weighed in on how beauty can impact individuals in society.

Within all the chatter, however, a key question has yet to be asked: how can we work with our sexuality–rather than against it–in business?

According to Lorenzana’s story, it seems her physical appeal may have helped her build business. The Voice reports that in April 2003 the Municipal Credit Union named her “sales rep of the month;” in November 2003 the Metropolitan Hospital in Queens recognized her for “providing world-class customer service;” and in August 2006 she earned a Customer Higher Standards Award at the Bank of America.

At Citibank, she “went out every day and looked for business…then clients would come into the branch asking for her.” Yet in the office, ultimately her sexual energy was killed, as she was removed from the organization along with any potential new clients.

As human beings, we hold the spectrum of humanity within ourselves, and this includes sex. As a career counselor, I’m interested in how this aspect of our selves manifests in the workplace.

The complexities of Debrahlee’s story are difficult to acknowledge, since they hit on a number of hot-button identity issues. Dwoskin writes:

Lorenzana [is] five-foot-six and 125 pounds, with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin, she is J.Lo curves meets Jessica Simpson rack… [Her] mother is Puerto Rican and father is Italian [and she] came to New York from Puerto Rico 12 years ago. She was 21 and pregnant, and had a degree as an emergency medical technician from a technical college in Manati, a small city…

While the racial or ethnic identity of her colleagues is not referenced, it seems that we’re talking about working–or in this case, avoiding working–across differences of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and gender.

It’s imperative for us to talk about how these dimensions of our identity come into play on the job, so that we don’t act on them unwittingly, and more important, so we can leverage all parts of ourselves to help solve the increasingly complex problems we face in 2010.

Lorenzana’s story contrasts with that of Danica Patrick, although there are significant similarities, to be explored in another post. As well, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will influence how human sexuality impacts the world of work — also to be explored in an upcoming post.

What do you think about how we access and leverage our sexuality at work?

Absurdity of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

We love The Onion! We can’t think of a better way–lighthearted and biting at the same time–to start a discussion on what it would mean for us to repeal DADT, the policy that bars lesbian and gay people from serving in the U.S. military. Today top defense officials called for an end to the 16-year old law.

This is the first post in a series on the effects of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on average American workers.  What do you think of repealing DADT?