by Tom Johnson, vice president of Finance, Global Business Services, The Clorox Company | When I joined Clorox in 1988, coming out as a gay man was the furthest thing from my mind. The company didn’t have domestic partner benefits, a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) employee resource group or openly GLBT employees in leadership positions. I wanted to progress in my career, but I saw no one like me in the management or leadership ranks. I concluded that the safest option for my career was to stay in the closet.
I stayed in the closet at Clorox for nearly five years before coming out to a very few trusted co-workers. At about the same time, the company offered me a role as the finance leader in London for our European and Middle Eastern businesses. I’m sure they thought they were signing up a low-cost, hard-working single guy for this international assignment. But — surprise! — I came out to my manager and let them know I’d accept the assignment, but my partner needed to go with me. Without missing a beat, my Clorox manager and human resources created a package that enabled us to relocate to London. That experience was the very beginning of a journey that has led Clorox to become a visible champion of workplace equality around the world for GLBT people. In 1998, Clorox was one of the first consumer products companies to implement domestic partner benefits, which is just one indication of the company’s support for its GLBT employees and their advocates.
Before coming out at work, it took an enormous amount of energy to hide who I was. A question as simple as, “Hey, what did you do this weekend?” left me worrying I might use the wrong pronoun or otherwise reveal I had a partner. After coming out, I was able to take the energy I used to hide in the closet, and instead channeled that energy into driving business results.
The journey of coming out is intensely personal and unfolds on a timeline that is only right for the individual. So people need to come out to co-workers when they are ready – not when others want them to. It’s an incredibly liberating experience that is consistent with our company value of doing the right thing and demonstrates a core leadership trait of integrity. I consistently see the dramatic increase in self-confidence, impact and performance of people after they come out.
What can you do to help foster an environment where GLBT employees can do their best work? Imagine being a new GLBT employee at the company. What signs would you look for to know it’s OK to be out? A really simple sign is, well, literally a sign. The Clorox Pride employee resource group (ERG) offers decals in the rainbow of colors that say “I support Clorox Pride.” You can display the decals prominently in your workspace to broadcast your support. Additionally, celebrate and be open about your own differences, especially those that may not be apparent. Tell your team about your GLBT family member, or your spouse of a different ethnicity, or the film you saw last weekend that made you think differently about someone who is different from you.
Clorox Pride plays an important role in defining the company’s culture and its commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. It demonstrates the company’s belief that inclusiveness is integral to driving business results, as shown by our perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.
This month, Clorox Pride is leading the company in its celebration of Pride Month 2013. By fostering a unique culture of acceptance and inclusiveness, Clorox celebrates the diversity of all our employees, who should feel proud of who they are each and every day.
NOTE: Tom Johnson is co-founder of Clorox Pride and president of the Board of Directors for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. Tom and his partner, Bruce, celebrate their 29th anniversary this month. They enjoy spending time hiking, skiing and practicing yoga. Read more about Tom’s story and the coming-out stories of other Out & Equal business professionals in the book Out & Equal at Work – From Closet to Corner Office.