How Homophobia Can Help Your Career

Homophobia, or the irrational discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, is a horrible and destructive force. Along with racism, sexism and other prejudices, it’s the source of so many ills in the world, and thus, the workplace.

In America, organizations exist to quell the effects of the devastating and pervasive dynamic, and many European nations–depicted in purple to the right–have laws against related hate crimes and hate speech. While it’s difficult to extinguish this ever-powerful group dynamic, that’s OK; increasing evidence is pointing to the upside of a homophobic environment.

You read that right.

Adam Kelley and Frank Golom, a teacher and organizational development consultant, respectively, have been affected by homophobia at work, ultimately for the better. They were recently profiled in TC Today, the magazine of Teachers College (TC), Columbia University.

At the Brooklyn High School for Leadership and Community Service, Adam Kelley’s teaching is informed by a previous, harrowing work experience. Writes Emily Rosenbaum:

As a Peace Corps volunteer teaching kindergartners in a village in Uganda, he was outed by a woman who was attempting to blackmail him. The punishment for male homosexuality under Ugandan tribal law is severe, and Kelley had to flee, returning to the States.

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Come Out at Work: As a Pessimist

We’ve been called Debby Downer, Worrying Walter, and other mildly funny names because of our proclivity to look first at the dark side of things. Now there’s research to support our pessimistic ways, even in the workplace.

The article “Can Positive Thinking be Negative?” in the May/June 2011 edition of Scientific American Mind explores the benefits of pessimism in the context of professional life.

Pessimists tend to fret a great deal about upcoming stressors such as job interviews or major exams, and they overestimate their likelihood of failure. Yet this worrying works for these individuals because it allows them to be better prepared. Work by Wellesley College psychologist Julie Norem and her colleagues shows that depriving defensive pessimists of their preferred coping style–for example, by forcing them to “cheer up”–leads them to perform worse on tasks.

So if it comes naturally, go ahead and connect with the downside of your world. With all the negative headlines in the news, it’s clearly adaptive to be prepared for the worst, including at work.

As long as you continue to hope for the best.

Do you identify as a pessimist? How has this affected your work?

Cartoon via

Come Out at Work: With a Triple-Whammy

A dear friend and colleague, “Sandy,” recently accepted the role of manager of recruiting at a preeminent cultural institution in New York City. Before starting her official first day, her colleagues-to-be took her out to lunch to welcome her into the fold.

Which is where trouble struck.

During the meal, Sandy’s coworkers noticed she wasn’t eating much at all. She sensed them taking notice, and felt compelled to speak up. “I’m gluten-free,” she announced, and related her solidarity with her daughter who lives with celiac disease, and manages the condition with the whole family’s help.

Did you see that? She came out at work as a mother just then, too. Her revelations didn’t stop there.

Since this is in New York, the discussion soon turned to Broadway theater. “I love Stephen Sondheim,” she professed.  “He’s dark,” a teammate responded about the American lyricist’s themes, getting a grasp on Sandy’s taste in entertainment.

A couple of days later, Sandy confided to us, “I revealed too much!” She felt exposed, and was unsure about the implications of what she disclosed to her lunch companions.  She acknowledged that talking about her dietary restrictions was practical, since of course she plans to eat regularly at work. And being a mom who works is nothing extraordinary. But piling on to the mix her affections for Stephen Sondheim, she concluded, was probably too much for her new compatriots to bear.

Which got us thinking about the nature of coming out at work. Read more

How to Work Through a Dry Spell

We’ve been in the midst of a dry spell; ideas and inspiration for writing have seemed elusive, and our energy level’s been lacking. What’s going on? An accumulation of life’s little traumas — unrelenting hay fever plus turning 40 combined with persistent low-grade family tension — has left us post-less over the last four weeks.

Yet here we are, writing again. The question is, how did we get through these dark, unproductive days? And more important, how can you find your groove again the next time you want to produce, but can’t?

Regardless of the specific nature of your task, if you’re getting stuck, there’s creativity in your work that sometimes needs a catalyst to keep it aflame. Consider the following six tips as part of your toolbox to generate momentum on the job.

1. Put your work in its proper context. What exactly will happen if your assignment doesn’t get done immediately? Or in a week? Or in a month? And who will be most impacted by your unproductive-ness?

Your endeavor is probably not a life or death scenario, and you’ll likely be able to salvage your relationship(s) with the person or entities most affected by your tardiness. So if you think your organization won’t cave in from your incomplete assignment, you can relax.

2. Switch gears. Shake up your patterns of working by engaging in a task different from the one you need to do. For example, if you need to be researching, try writing for a while. If you need to write, spend some time researching. This will help you feel productive, which can kick-start your needed forward movement. Read more