Coming out in the workplace – a matter of trust

Diversity as a key element of corporate culture

New Work Nov 15, 2022

Our society is becoming increasingly diverse. Life models and needs in the workplace are changing – and so are the demands placed on companies. Henkel wants to create a working environment in which talent, passion and performance can flourish and each person feels valued and supported in their individuality. In this interview, long-time employee Julia Kalder, Manager Agile Organizational Development at Henkel, provides insights into her experience during her coming out in the company. She shares what she believes it takes for a company to offer and promote a respectful and inclusive culture.

1. You've been working at Henkel for more than 20 years. When did you come out?

Julia: It all started in June 2020, when I was 39 years old and had my inner coming out. It was the biggest liberating moment of my life. After numerous conversations in my private life, I realized that I would also have to come out at work. After all, I would not only change internally, but also externally. The thought of coming out at work initially filled me with fear. I wondered how my colleagues of many years would react. What would it mean for my work and also my job security? Would I be rejected, discriminated against, laughed at? Was there perhaps help somewhere? In October 2020, I finally took the plunge.

Julia Kalder, Manager Agile Organizational Development at Henkel

I wondered how my longtime colleagues would react to my coming out. What would that mean for my work and also my job security?

2. How did your coming out at Henkel go?

Julia: The first thing I did was seek help from our HR department and a colleague from the works council. I was met with goodwill from all sides. Then I confided in colleagues who were also friends and received a lot of support and backing. The same happened in the following discussions with my superiors. I also discussed with them the further steps of my coming out to the team. I decided to present my story in a short video at the end of a team meeting. The video did not fail to make an impact; some colleagues had tears in their eyes. For the colleagues outside of my direct team, I composed an email in which I offered that I was open to questions and conversation. And I left it up to them to also forward the email – of which they made an astonishing amount of use.
The bureaucratic changes were straightforward. For example, my email address was changed to my new name within a day. My official change of first name and civil status was then completed in April 2021.

3. What surprised you most about coming out at Henkel?

Julia: I experienced positive support that I would not have expected to this extent and for which I am wholeheartedly grateful. The acceptance and support allow me to reconcile my transition and my career at Henkel. I can say with full conviction that I could not have asked for a better professional environment for coming out.

Julia Kalder, Manager Agile Organizational Development at Henkel

I think it is important that an open, diverse culture is lived in the company and that the management supports and promotes it.

4. What do you think does it take for a company to promote a respectful and inclusive culture?

Julia: I think it is important that an open, diverse culture is lived in the company and that the management supports and promotes it. To a large extent, this includes the topic of education. This is a central issue for our society, and also for education policy. I think that Henkel, as an employer and a company, can contribute a great deal to general education through training, events, and communication campaigns. I am grateful that we have people in our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) team and also in the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) who deal with this topic every day. And although Henkel is already well on its way, there is still a lot to do here as well.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are groups organized by employees around specific topics. They promote a diverse, inclusive work atmosphere that is in line with the company's values and goals. There are currently more than 55 ERGs at Henkel that address topics such as gender, origin, or disability.

5. Do you have any specific examples?

Julia: Just recently, we established a trans ERG for LGBTQ+ issues at Henkel – as a first point of contact and safe space that even preserves anonymity if necessary. I would like to see even greater emphasis in communication activities on such internal corporate structures that ensure and promote respectful treatment of LGBTQ+ issues. From an applicant’s point of view, a decisive criterion for me would be whether the potential employer accepts me as I am. I believe that Henkel has a responsibility and a position to be a pioneer in this area – in line with our corporate purpose.

6. What do you recommend to people who want to come out in the workplace?

Julia: Go with your gut. It will tell you what is important and right in your individual process in that moment. That may be a question of whether you would rather come out one-on-one or in front of the entire team. Or whether you would rather it be a letter or an email. Identify the first people you want to take into your confidence. This could be close colleagues, someone in social services, the DEI team, or people in the various ERGs. I also recommend involving your own manager in the coming out process as early as possible. Ideally, you will know they are on your side.

7. How do you feel today?

Julia: Relieved. Settled. Accepted. Respected. Grateful. Content. Part of the many positive experiences I had during my coming out are the small and large encounters I experienced here at Henkel.

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