In Australia, 63% of ‘out’ LGBTI university grads go back into the closet when they enter the workplace.
I was one of those grads.
When I joined the workforce, I was terrified that if the firm partners found out I was gay, my career would be slower or even halted. I wanted to be known for my contributions and performance, not who I slept with. I hid who I was and referred to my boyfriend (Ryan) as my housemate. I censored myself each and every day. My anxiety rose and I didn’t enjoy coming to work.
When, Andrew, a new partner joined the firm things changed. We worked on a few projects really well together. He became a mentor. He was open about his older gay brother who was happily partnered and although I knew he would be accepting and supportive, I still feared telling him and others. One day, after a successful client meeting, Andrew and I were celebrating over lunch and I told him. I broke into tears right then and there. Andrew was even more supportive than I could have imagined. I valued his professional and personal advice more than anything. He told me if it was ever an issue or if I had any problems, that I should come straight to him. And if anyone else had a problem – they could also answer to him. I told my immediate team more about Ryan and started talking about him openly with others. A few months later, in early December, I brought Ryan to the office holiday party. It was a huge success, Ryan was welcomed and we even got to dance together.
That was 10 years ago and it helps explain why I am so passionate about creating an inclusive work environment where everyone is comfortable to be themselves. I want to be the person Andrew was for me for others.
I’m the co-lead of Pride at Accenture in Australia and New Zealand and recently went to Shanghai to facilitate our third global LGBTI conference. With 40 Accenture employees from our APAC offices in attendance, here are a couple of the ways we are helping others become better LGBTI allies.
Connecting and encouraging less progressive countries
The conference allows our LGBTI employees within the APAC region and further afield to get to know each other and learn what challenges and initiatives each country has. Certain countries within the region that are not as progressive or accepting as Australia.
When you consider Malaysia and Indonesia, both are extremely homophobic countries. There are no official LGBTI networks in either of those countries because. You can still be persecuted for being gay. We had individuals from both these countries attend and learned about the challenges they face and how far behind Australia they are.
They were the only ones from each of their respective countries. They shared with us how hard it is because their families and culture don’t accept it. Because they have come out as LGBTI, they’ve been cut off from things professionally and personally.
It was great to be able to share our learnings with them and hear about their challenges. To be able to offer support, share best practices and help them on their path to equality and acceptance.
Encouraging others to be stronger leaders
One of the key objectives of the conference was to help our LGBTI team become stronger leaders within the community. So that means, regardless if you’re LGBTI or not, using inclusive language. Being aware of unconscious bias and actively empowering other people to embrace who they truly are. This boils down to simple things like when you meet someone you don’t ask them how their “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” is, you ask how their partner is.
It’s these kinds of small things that show we have a strong position in inclusion and diversity.
One of the standout moments of my career so far was when I supported an individual to come out to their family after years of being in the closet. This person was more comfortable at work than at home which impacted their mental and physical health.
So when you head back to the office or client site, think about how you can be “Andrew” for others and be an authentic role model for everyone around you. You don’t know how much it could help change someone’s life.