Two Harvard Business School graduates last night revealed the secret to workplace success for gay and lesbian professionals: come out, and with pride.
Annette M. Friskopp and Sharon L. Silverstein discussed the results of their study of gay and lesbian HBS alumni before a crowd of 25 who gathered in Emerson Hall.
The study culminated in a book entitled Straight Jobs Gay Lives: Gay and Lesbian Professionals, the Harvard Business School, and the American Workplace.
The event was co-sponsored by the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus and the Harvard Business School Gay and Lesbian Student Organization.
"[The results] really make us very optimistic about the changes that are going to continue to occur in the workplace," said Silverstein, a real estate and finance consultant in San Diego.
Friskopp and Silverstein, both 1990 graduates, conducted surveys and interviews of HBS graduates on the Gay and Lesbian Alumni mailing list over a five year period, beginning in 1990.
They sought an ethnic and gender makeup of their respondents pool that mirrors the makeup of a typical HBS class.
Sixty-eight percent of those contacted responded to inquiries asking them to compare their success in the business world to that of their heterosexual peers.
The majority of respondents felt that they were equally or more successful than their straight peers.
Those who felt they had reached higher positions than their heterosexual co-workers said they had gained access to a host of support structures by "coming out" in the workplace.
"The key to people who were successful is that they came out with pride," said Friskopp, a senior manager at a high-tech communications company in San Diego. "The fear of coming out far exceeded the actual consequences."
Still, 35 percent of those polled said they had faced discrimination at some point in their careers.
The authors noted, however, that the only people who reported negative experiences were those who tried to hide their sexual orientation and ultimately felt forced to "come out."
The notion of a glass ceiling for homosexuals in the business community has not yet been fully explored, the authors said.
"The bottom line is, align yourself with allies and have a plan," Friskopp said.
The results of the study were first made public when the book was released on October 11, National "Coming Out" Day.
The authors hope to introduce it to college and corporate libraries.
"People who have been coming out are concurring with our findings that there are a lot of benefits to coming out that they didn't realize while closeted," Friskopp said.
Some audience members last night said they agreed with the authors' findings that workplaces can provide positive and supportive atmospheres for gays and lesbians.
"I wasn't surprised," said Shea B. Aldrich, who works at LASPAU: Academic and Professional Programs for the Americas, a division of Harvard University. "I always had assumed that Harvard is very liberal and free."
He said the findings confirm that there is a similar attitude towards gay and lesbian professionals outside of the Harvard community.
Keith Barsky, a massage therapist in Boston who said the majority of his clients are gay, said of the authors: "Their findings follow along with how things are going in the general population."
Robert W. Mack '71, co-chair of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, agreed.
"The results of the study are very impressively encouraging," he said, "at least to gay people going into the business world.