Hi there. My name’s Luke Ounsworth and I’m an Analyst working in Accenture’s Digital practice. I joined the firm in February 2016 after graduating from Exeter and am currently project managing a large, connected buildings project. While I’m still very much a newbie, I did spend some time prior to this role working for a large, multinational NGO so I feel I’m in a good place to offer a bit of advice around the topic of this blog – what it’s like to be ‘out’ in a high profile, high performance role.
I’ll confess, I’ve never been involved in any sort of LGBTQ society before and never have I written publicly about my experiences of being a gay man. That’s not because coming out to friends, family and co-workers was easy for me so I didn’t need the support of an LGBTQ group – coming out was, in fact, one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done in my life.
Rather, it was because I didn’t start to feel truly comfortable in my own skin until I left university and began working. As such, now that I am happy in my sexuality – something made possible by working for supportive, inclusive companies such as Accenture – I couldn’t resist putting pen to paper for my alma mater to talk about my experiences of being out in the workplace.
The best piece of advice I could give to LGBTQ students and recent graduates is to be yourself. I know that sounds horribly cringey. You’ve no doubt heard it a million times in a million different contexts but one of the most important lessons I have learned since joining the world of work is to make sure you stay true to who you are.
My first role after university was with a large, multinational NGO. I still remember how excited I was to join. This excitement was tempered though by my nerves that I would be judged by my new colleagues because of my sexuality. That sounds ridiculous, I know, especially when I was out to all my friends and family. However, the office culture was fairly “blokey” and I was desperate to prove that I was ‘one of the lads’ in order to get on and do well. As such, I made the mistake of either lying about my sexual orientation or simply avoiding any office discussion on partners or dating.
Ironically but unsurprisingly, this behaviour actually held me back. Though my colleagues and I got on very well, many took my shyness as a sign that I was disengaged and introverted (the complete opposite of who I am!) so didn’t feel comfortable broaching personal conversations with me. Over time, this led to me becoming ostracised from certain groups and, even worse, meant that I received some negative feedback when it came to performance review time.
As a result, I made a conscious decision when I joined Accenture that I would be open about my sexuality. I can honestly say that this decision to be my true self is the best I’ve ever made in a professional capacity. As an employer, Accenture is one of the most supportive firms when it comes to LGBTQ staff. (You’ll notice this the second you enter the building from the hundreds of rainbow-coloured lanyards which employees wear to show solidarity and uniting together to form LGBT Allies!)
This decision to be myself has already allowed me to forge very strong relationships with my colleagues – both gay and straight. These relationships have, in turn, enabled me to better perform my day job because I earn more respect from those around me when they can see that I am being genuine, honest and authentic.
I appreciate that this advice – be yourself – is tired, overused and sometimes patronising. However, for those of who reading this who might not yet feel comfortable in your own skin, take it from me that no one in a professional environment will judge you because of your sexuality. You won’t be held back because of who you choose to date. Rather, you’ll go further in your career when you show your colours (rainbow or not!) and remain true to yourself.