Sexuality & Gender: Coming Out at Work

As I approach the end of my tenure as Co-Chair for PRIDE, the UK Chapter of the LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans and Allies) community at Mercer, I’ve been reflecting on how we have made progress in the last couple of years.  Of all the roles and opportunities I’ve had in my career, this is the one I am most honoured and humbled to have delivered.  To mark World AIDS Day on Saturday 1st December, I thought I’d share once again my own journey as a gay working man, and reflect on what I hope to achieve in this role.

In the 1990s, being openly gay in the workplace was not the “done thing”.  Whilst I think many people may not have cared, I was conscious of the unconscious (and often conscious) bias against openly gay colleagues.  I envied and pitied them in equal measure.  I distinctly remember the dread of colleagues asking what I’d been up to at the weekend, had I met a “nice girl yet” or other such questions that I didn’t feel comfortable to answer.  Even after I started to feel a little more confident to talk about my sexuality, that confidence was rapidly eroded by a manager who decide to make me the target for his jokes.  his misogynistic bullying left me almost dreading work.  When I raised it with the head of department, she dismissed the matter as banter and refused to accept my formal complaint against him. And so it reinforced his position, and the bullying continued.

I moved on to my first job in the London, feeling that a fresh start in the big city would be my chance to be openly gay.  Within weeks of joining a large corporate, I was asked to remove the photograph of my boyfriend and I (attending a back tie dinner) from my desk, and was “subtly” told to tone down my ties and cuff links because they were “too obvious”.  I think this was a turning point when my inner sense of injustice started to awaken.

As I headed off into the new and exciting world of the dot com boom, I at last felt I could be me – the same person at home & at work.  With a fantastically supportive and liberal boss, I no longer felt the need to hide, and my confidence in being an openly gay employee was cemented.  Fast forward a fair few years, and I find myself back in the corporate world, but this time, it’s very different.  Diversity is positively celebrated and nurtured, and any form of harassment (be it sexuality, sexual orientation, age, race or disability) is no longer tolerated.  In my working career, it feels like we’ve traveled a long way forward!

So in my current role as Customer Experience leader and Co-Chair for the UK Chapter of LGBTA at Mercer, I’ve focused on 2 core areas – diversity and inclusion.  Diversity is all about the celebration of each individual, not putting them into boxes and compartments, but respecting their own uniqueness and individuality.  In the workplace, with the clients & customers we engage, or the suppliers we work with, I have a responsibility to ensure we are embracing diversity, helping those within the community to step forward and achieve their true potential.

At the same time, I focused just as much on inclusion.  It would be very easy to pat myself on the back and say “your on the inside now”, but that will only result in others being on the outside.  Instead, focus went on efforts to achieve real inclusions – education, empathy, collaboration and patience to help those who don’t understand, those who feel uncomfortable or those who chose not to be part of the community.  Real harmony comes when we expend effort on those who are not part of our community as much as those who are.

Working within a global business like Mercer, with all the benefits, connections and leverage we have, there is a real opportunity to help those out there who have not (YET) achieved the same rights and privileges that I have.  I’m proud to work for a business that publicly commits to this righteous cause, such as signing up to Business for Trans Equality in the USA.

I’d appreciate if you could take a moment to reflect on what you might do to support diversity & inclusion, and make a pledge to do something great at work, at home, amongst friends or in your local community.  Whatever cause you do it for, everyone making a small gesture will make a huge difference overall.

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