I am 34, gay, and in a committed relationship with another man. I have never felt the need to come out at work, in part because I believe that your personal life is your own business, but also because the sector in which I work is extremely conservative. Last month, my manager told me he expects me to apply for an overseas posting in a country that is known to discriminate against gays. My partner is dead set against the idea. If I say no, that will reflect badly on me and my manager. But if I say yes, that will likely be the end of my relationship. How can I turn down this assignment without revealing the real reason behind my reluctance to go?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Human resources executive, Atlanta
Assuming you've made your decision not to apply for this overseas assignment, how to tell your manager is simple: Thank him for the offer and decline, for now.
Thank your manager for having confidence in you and considering you for the opportunity. Tell him you have to decline in light of your personal commitments at this time. Suggest other ways of gaining the skills your manager believes you would get from the overseas assignment and ways you may be able to contribute by working remotely. Tell him you're open to future opportunities and be specific about when and where. This way you demonstrate appreciation for the opportunity, eagerness to find a solution and willingness to be open to future assignments.
Perhaps less simple is how you bring your personal self to work. Most people bring their personal self to work, sharing share stories about what they did on the weekend and with whom, or share plans they have with loved ones.
If it's entirely your choice not to share those experiences, and that makes you happy, then good for you. If it's your company's environment that keeps you from sharing who you are, then it may not be so good for you. It must take extraordinary energy to hide such an important part of your life. What if you put all that energy into new ideas, new skills, or better solutions? Would you be happier and more successful if you could be more open about who you are? If the company you work for strives to be the best and be successful, would they not want you to do so as well? I'm just asking.
THE SECOND ANSWER
President of Randstad Canada, Laval, Que.
The first thing you need to determine is what it is you want. Ask yourself, will this new opportunity make me happy? Where is my career headed? What are my priorities? The goal is to look at your whole life – and everyone in it – to decide whether this move is right for you.
If you determine you aren't on board, then you'll have to speak with your manager and decline the position – but it's worth pointing out that there's no need for you to tell others about your sexuality if you don't want to. The decision to come out is a highly personal one that should be made when you're ready to make it.
Thank your manager for giving you the opportunity and then say, "I've discussed it with my family, and now is not the right time, but I'm open to other opportunities that may arise in the future."
Remind your employer of the value you bring to your work. Describe the skills, abilities and characteristics that make you an excellent fit for your present position, the way you would in a job interview. Reassure your employer that even though you didn't accept the promotion, you're open to change and willing to try new projects. Show him that professional growth is important to you by completing some training or taking on projects that expand your knowledge and skills.
You also need to have a discussion with your partner to find out where he'd be willing to move within the area of your company's influence. This will give you greater scope in your discussions with your employer, allowing you to clearly define your career goals and plans.
It might be a risk to say no, but saying yes to the wrong move and finding yourself in a bad situation is far worse than being truthful and saying no, regardless of the fallout.
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