Sarah Crabbe
Jun 21, 2024

How I came out in the workplace

Every LGBTQ+ person has their own choice, timing and path to recognise their sexual identity publicly. Here, the director of HR at DDB Sydney gives her perspective.

How I came out in the workplace

There’s a huge difference in coming out to yourself and really ‘coming out’. For some people, realisation and self-acceptance happens in early life for others, like me, it’s a long, gradual process that happens over time. So much time in fact, that I found myself in my late 30s, just figuring it out.

As a kid in the late 80s, I started to form a picture of what success looked like. I wish I took more notice of my radical mother or my queer relatives and their growing families; more so, my definition of success was built up over time by the gradual seeping in of a defined ‘norm’. In advertisements, books, TV shows, films – the way society was and still is, overwhelmingly heteronormative in the way we live and breathe and often raise our children. As a thriving people pleaser (now thankfully recovered!), I found going against that grain hard. Unconsciously I didn’t want to stand out and I didn’t want to be different. I thought I could choose. It took years of unlearning what society taught me (and a great queer therapist), to be able to fully understand and embrace all parts of me.

I’m relieved there are so many amazing and brilliant stories available today. Stories that will help our kids exploring their sexuality feel valid and seen. Visibility remains essential and, as advertisers and storytellers, I believe our industry has a duty to reflect the diversity and fluidity of the human experience – and importantly reflect all genders and sexualities, not just in Pride month.

There’s often a lot of shame associated with late bloomers, so the idea of coming out in a visible leadership role was a lot. There was never the pressure to come out in my workplace, but how could I really be me and perform at my very best if I was exhausted by hiding such an important part of my identity? So, for me there was never a choice.

At DDB Sydney I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive team of people around me. Although some colleagues were more than likely surprised by my news, particularly having been married to a man for many years. Yet I felt safe, accepted and seen. I know a lot of workplaces aren’t like this, even today.

I adopted the old tried and tested ‘fake it until you make it’ approach. With each conversation the words felt easier, and I felt more comfortable. I presented a level of confidence, until I could own it. It may sound odd, but I still have ways of approaching conversations particularly with people who don’t know me well; like always using my partner’s name in conversations to avoid any awkward misgendered assumptions. Maybe I shouldn’t have to do this, but for many of us in the queer community, we build life hacks to help make the uncomfortable, more comfortable.

In the 2023 Australian ad land census Create Space run by the Advertising Council of Australia, 13% of respondents identify as LGBTQ+, four points fewer than in 2021. And of those people only 61% are out at work. Significantly more LGBTQ+ people (versus our straight counterparts) are considering leaving the industry or their company as a result of a lack of inclusion or discrimination experienced. As a straight passing cisgender woman, the privilege I’ve been granted is not lost on me. 

I’m passionate about the work we do at DDB in the DEI space. It is important work and yet there’s more we need to do for our LGBTQ+ community. For every coming out story like mine, there’s just as many stories of people who have faced microaggressions, discrimination and harassment. Creating psychologically safe workplaces underpinned by modern, inclusive policies and leadership engagement and accountability are essential for change in our industry.

When I think back to that kid back in the 80s, I’m glad she learnt to be comfortable with ambiguity, fluidity and a journey of self-discovery.

Sarah Crabbe is the director of human resources at DDB Sydney

Campaign Asia

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