The following is an excerpt from Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling: How LGBTQ+ People Can Thrive And Succeed At Work by Layla McCay, available now from Bloomsbury Business.

There are currently only four out LGBTQ+ CEOs across all Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies, and just 0.8% of Fortune 500 board positions are filled by LGBTQ+ people. This deficit, occurring across sectors and around the world, reveals a diversity gap playing out in today’s workplace: LGBTQ+ people are less likely to reach the top jobs.

But what is holding LGBTQ+ people back at work–and what can be done? Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling provides a compelling look at the challenges facing LGBTQ+ professionals as they navigate their careers – with advice from many senior figures who have smashed their own rainbow ceilings.

More than half of the people I interviewed used exactly the same phrase about their experience of coming out at work: “It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

Pips Bunce explained the impact of ceasing to hide being non-binary: “It affects how I interact with people and how I am perceived –I’ve noticed before I was out, I was a lot less assertive, proud and confident. A lot of people commented on the shift within me when I became authentic. When you’re concealing a part of your identity, you’re never entirely genuine. Once you’re being open, honest and authentic, people respect you so much more. And because you interact with them in a more honest and open way.”

Karen Teo also experienced a transformation in her workplace performance when she started work at Facebook, as the company was then called, and finally felt safe to come out.

“By embracing myself fully I started to find my voice, I started to feel more comfortable speaking up, I started to hone that voice in a way that became more collaborative, I started to get better, more well-liked. I attribute my success to Meta as it was the first place to take me to the roots of who I am and grow me in the company.”

“I became a Director in less than a year. Uncovering and embracing and showing who I am to everyone helped me build relationships with people at work I never could have, and they lifted me up, supported me, helped me grow. These are not just my peers and managers, but my team.”

Dame Inga Beale is the former CEO of Lloyd’s of London and now a portfolio director. She also reflected on the impact of not being out at work: “Well you don’t network in the same way. When you’re in the closet you’re hiding your real self all the time which takes a lot of energy away. Through doing that it makes you have a bit of a veneer or surface to you – people think you’re unapproachable or they don’t trust you as they sense you’re not quite open.”

“You cannot perform your best because you’re so busy trying to be something you’re not. It becomes so ingrained in the way you behave because you’re trying to be something different – I think back at times and think, gosh, I was limiting myself as to what I can do. Even though I was out I was still a little embarrassed, it’s not easy to unravel or even understand.”

Nancy Schlichting had a similar experience: “It’s like this constant shadow or cloud over everything, it’s tough. I felt like I was an imposter, I felt like people didn’t know who I was. I always worked hard, but in terms of enjoying it, I enjoyed it way more when I could be myself, put a picture of my family on my desk, bring my spouse to events.”

Dame Inga Beale also felt this: “At work it affected me big time. You’re not hiding things, you’ve got more energy somehow, it changes your life. I encourage people to come out. I say: ‘it’s invigorating, you should do it.’ ”

There are also clear practical advantages to being out at work. She remembers: “I’d been in the closet for many years. Moving countries, my girlfriend came everywhere with me. It was a secret – even though my company moved me around, they thought I was single – it affects your housing allowance. And if you were going as a couple, they’d assist you in getting a visa – we had to do that by ourselves.”

Another important consideration is that some people feel unsafe to be out in other parts of their life – or they may have come out and faced rejection. For some of these people, the workplace has the potential to provide a safe haven, offering inclusive corporate culture and policy and legal protections that enable them to come out safely; to be accepted and respected for who they are, live authentically, and meet other LGBTQ+ people at work. This can be especially powerful when someone lacks these protections in other parts of their life. Some people are out at work and go back in the closet at the end of the day.

Once a person does come out at work, some of the benefits can be objectively measured. An important perk is increased levels of job satisfaction, which rises with every year the LGBTQ+ person has been out at work. The impact also shows up in salary data – a US study found that LGBTQ+ people who were still in the closet at work or home a year after graduation earned 18 percent less than their out LGBTQ+ peers, and were 14 percent more likely to have mental health problems.

Unfortunately, women currently get less opportunity to benefit – many studies find that women, especially bisexual women, are less likely to be out than men, largely due to concerns they may have about compounding the gender discrimination they already face.

This is an excerpt from Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling: How LGBTQ+ People Can Thrive And Succeed At Work by Layla McCay, available now from Bloomsbury Business. Reprinted with permission.

Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated