Oct 17, 2010

[Technicolor Musings] Gay-Friendly Careers

Flickr: San Diego Shooter - Construction worker
Construction worker
by San Diego Shooter / Nathan Rupert.

A few years ago I did a correspondence interview for Mega Magazine in 2006 for an article about call centers. Entitled, "Call of Duty" and the slant of the article was to examine whether or not call centers were having a positive effect on the youth. Being an industry professional myself, naturally I had to defend the call centers while the other exert statements were all about how annoying agents are when caught smoking. I think a decent job of explaining some of the benefits of the industry, but then again I may have been a tad emotional when I first responded.

In thinking about an article for today's Technicolor Musings post, my mind kept wandering back to my work. I guess it's the curse of having brought home work for the weekend and thus such thoughts are inevitable. But then it hit me - something to write about.

More than one friend has mentioned how it seems like call centers have (at least) an above average number of LGBT employees compared to other industries. And when you think about it, there may be some merit to this statement. Hell, I've more or less been able to beat down the feelings of shock and surprise when I encounter a pretty convincing transvestite in the men's bathroom because I've certainly seen it often enough.

So what do you think? Have call centers become a haven for LGBT employees?

When you think about what might be a stereotypically gay-friendly employment option, what comes to mind for you? The harsher stereotypes probably focus on roles in the cosmetic industry such as hair stylist or make-up artist. Expand further and you get careers as a fashion designer, interior decorator and flight steward. In other words, most of the narrow-minded stereotypes tend to focus on jobs that are typically seen to be somehow more "appropriate" for women (and I don't agree with this statement, just for the record).

This is not to say members of the LGBT community are unable to find jobs elsewhere. I know a good number of people in high profile jobs such as doctors, lawyers and leaders in other industries. But in what most people conceive to be the bigger ticket jobs that command greater pay, people rarely associate them with gay men and women. And for the doctors and lawyers that I know to be gay, they generally find themselves consciously (or sometimes not) not immediately revealing their gender preference in their working environments. Many have stated that it's because it would jeopardize their chances at a better career or it would restrict their options in the industry and so on and so forth. It's a depressing notion, but what can we do - it is how they have chosen to live their lives and try to survive the pre-existing social system at play.

Although the irony is that for a lot of these folks, there's no question that they're gay. I mean come on - one look at these guys and you know that they aren't going to make a career out of acting or lying professionally. Call it a personal observation, but the more gay-restricting the work place is, the more these people seem to do things in terms of behavior, manner and dress that totally reveals their true rainbow colors.

Flickr: St Stev - Pink Digger
Pink Digger
by St Stev via Flickr.

Thankfully, I've found the BPO industry to be wonderfully liberating. From day one I made sure people knew I was gay, and I wasn't alone. There has always been a healthy number of gay or lesbian folks joining the company with every new training class of agents or every new hire. And yes, a lot of them are happily flamboyantly gay and wearing make-up should they choose to. Heck, depending on prevailing company policies, many are comfortable with cross-dressing and Halloween becomes even more exciting as a result.

And they don't get stuck as agents or staff level employees either. I'm not exactly the only openly gay manager at the company at the moment and there are a healthy mix of them pretty much everywhere.

A typical call center production floor in the ...Image via WikipediaAs much as people have horror stories about the call center industry that get exaggerated over time, the industry does have a lot to offer the LGBT worker. Sure, there's a lot of demands for your time, you need to learn how to work nights and your metrics become king. But in exchange, you get working environment where the measure of your worth to the company is based on your performance alone. The call center industry comes with a Western maturity about work and the need for quantitative measures for one's performance as opposed to the highly perception-based and emotional manner of evaluation that many local industries still suffer from. Sure, numbers seem cold and cruel, but they're honest and hard to argue and in the end are able to stand on their own.

For those of you who have tried to rise up the corporate ladder in a job that isn't necessarily friendly to our gender preference - how many times have you been passed over because someone was somehow better for the role despite the fact you know you've done more? How many times have you felt like you weren't getting anywhere because your superiors frowned upon your singing in the elevators or dressing in a manner that makes them feel uncomfortable? Or better yet, how often have your evaluations factored in whether or not you have a wife and kids as a measure of responsibility and maturity?

Sure, the working world at large is still trying to play catch-up in terms of LGBT acceptance and respect. But the benefits of the BPO industry include the fact that we're already dealing with more Western-appropriate policies and company views that have already crossed the hurdles of such equality concerns. Sure, it's not a perfect system, but what is? At least in call centers and other BPO jobs, you actually stand a much better chance of getting ahead and not finding different variations of glass ceilings standing in the way.

No job is ever "just" a job, like how many idealistic fresh graduates tend to view call center positions as "just" call center jobs or being "just" an agent. You can make a career out of almost any job, more so in an industry as systematic, mature and structured as the call center industry. The only industry that is better in terms of organization and systems would probably have to be manufacturing - those of you working there would understand what I mean by this statement.

Flickr: visiticeland@hotmail.com - I am what I am
I am what I am
by visiticeland@hotmail.com / Helgi Hall via Flickr.

So what I am saying here? For one, I'm proud to be a part of the call center industry - and I have been for more than seven years now. It's a great place to work with fun people and of course great pay as is often mentioned pretty much everywhere. But more importantly, it's a job where I get to be who I am and quite proudly so - a gay geek working with a lot of other out and proud LGBT professionals.

For the rest of you who are stuck in jobs where you find yourself hiding who you are, you have at least three options that come to mind. First, (1) you can continue the charade and try to be someone you're not in order to have a glimmer of a chance of getting anywhere, (2) you can fight the system and try to get them to recognize achievements AND your sexual preference or (3) rethink whether this is really the career you want to be in and whether or not an alternative career, such as working in a BPO company, is something you ought to be considering right around now.

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