Most people know this cliche joke about vegans: “How do you know if someone is vegan? Oh don’t worry; they’ll tell you.”
The premise is that vegans (supposedly) can’t wait to broadcast their identity and ideology to the world. While it’s true for some, it is hardly universal. Particularly, business professionals often embrace the vegan lifestyle as a sensible way to live – very much like recycling, giving back to charity or being an ethical employee – while realizing that preaching in the workplace would not be effective or appropriate. Many do not bring up their lifestyle at work at all.
That makes it harder to find vegan co-workers. (I recently visited our corporate office where a helpful IT technician turned out to be vegan! The topic only came up thanks to a vegan sticker on my laptop.) How do you identify your vegan – or vegan curious - colleagues without them wearing a sign? Also how do you identify yourself as vegan in a work-appropriate manner? Here are some practical tips from Vegan Leaders.
1. Use workplace meals as a ubiquitous opportunity.
Office events, team luncheons and cafeteria meals create splendid opportunities to meet vegan co-workers (and to model your lifestyle without preaching it.) By scanning what’s on people’s plates, you can easily strike a conversation with: “I couldn’t help but notice that your plate is vegan. Do you eat vegan?”
2. Find out if your company has a veg employee forum.
“I found a vegan discussion group on our company’s internal social media site,” reveals Dan Ohlemiller, CPA and Associate at a major global professional services firm. Koji Pereira, Designer at a leading Fortune 500 technology company, also connects with vegan co-workers through an internal discussion group. Many other companies - Microsoft, Facebook and IBM, just to name a few – have internal vegan or vegetarian employee forums.
3. Display work-appropriate clues (be creative).
The limits will vary but in general, you should be able to display magnets or photos of you/friends in vegan t-shirts, or say a framed award for your outside-of-work advocacy, in your workspace. Subtle personal vegan accessories might also be an option. Be creative! John Edmundson, Director at Mezzo Holdings Ltd. (Hong Kong) often wears his elegant vintage London Vegetarian Society brass & enamel pin. “Co-workers constantly ask me about it,” observes John.
A tasteful laptop sticker can spur lots of fun talk about plant foods without overtly advertising that you’re vegan. “I had an "Eat More Kale.com" sticker on my laptop,” says management-level vegan at a major pharmaceutical company. “It was a popular conversation starter, and many colleagues admitted to trying kale as a result!”
4. Be a visible vegan after hours.
If you prefer keeping your vegan interest outside of work, opportunities range from wearing vegan t-shirts to being active on social media to volunteering. Nicole Cook, an attorney in a post-doctoral program at University of Arkansas, wears conservative suits to work but wears vegan message shirts to a gym, to sport or political events or when grocery shopping. Nicole notes: “As a body-builder, I often get asked about my nutrition – what a great way to address the ever-present protein question.”
Your outside-of-work encounters can lead back to your employer network! “A fellow activist I knew turned out to be my co-worker!”, shares Fernando Cuenca, Engineer at a major aerospace company. “Now we partner to raise awareness about the environmental impact of animal agriculture in our office.”
5. Know when to stop.
At all cost, avoid appearing one-dimensional. Due to the still-prevalent stereotype, people will be more drawn to a charming and well-rounded vegan colleague than a righteous and morose one. Keith Bohanna, Principal at Near Future (Ireland), sums it well: “Many of us feel strongly about various political, social and lifestyle issues - the “right” ways to eat just being one of them. It would be tedious - and actually unbearable - if all of us constantly shared those interests when uninvited.”
6. Join Vegan Leaders on LinkedIn.
Last but not least, tap into the Vegan Leaders community! Our very niche is vegans working in corporate (esp. Fortune 500) management and business functions. Join us to discover new vegan connections – working in your field or even at the same company. Time has never been better to be a proud, empowered and well-connected vegan!