Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable, ashamed or inferior for who they are. In a fair society every child of a nation should be cherished equally and this should apply within the workplace too. We are lucky in Ireland to live in such a society where the moral compass is strong among its citizens who consciously demand social justice and change. The New York Times referred to Ireland as the “vangaurd for social change” in the world following the vote on marriage equality and change has continued in other sectors. We now have one of the most progressive Transgender Laws globally.
And while positive change bulldozes its way through our society for the better, we can often be left with the hangover from what was there beforehand. The Employment Equality Amendment Bill 2015 was brought in to address the Employment Equality Act 1998 which allowed religious run schools to dismiss Teachers and Staff based on their sexuality. This forced teachers who may have been open with their sexuality amongst their friends and family back into the closet when they went to work. And while the law has been corrected to protect our teaching colleagues, statistics presented by Stonewall charity in the UK show that 62% of new recruits tend to retreat back into the closet when they enter the job market for fear that their sexuality will be a limiting factor to their career prospects.
I am truly lucky to work for a company where, thankfully, I have never felt obliged to return into the closet. Accenture is a well-known champion of the LGBT community and a leader in terms of actively challenging and addressing societal inequalities that extend further than just the LGBT group. It’s a place where your differences are truly celebrated and recognised as integral in forming effective and creative teams. I have worked in environments before that have not been as open or inclusive but could be described more as being toxic and suppressing. I know first-hand the negative effects that this brings in terms of mental health and your ability to perform your role effectively. You will spend one third of your life at work and you should feel at home in that environment, without having to put on a “mask” to portray another character. The importance to feeling safe and valued cannot be understated and the onus is not on just the employer, but the employee’s too to create a welcoming atmosphere for all.
Within Accenture, there is a strong sense of community, especially so among our LGBT & Allies Network, and it is within the network that I have made some of my best friends and performed some of the most rewarding work. The group offers a great space to meet up, socialise and contribute to changing attitudes and challenging biases at work. It’s through this work that helped earn the company the accolade of LGBT Employer of the year 2016. Some personal highlights of my first year in Accenture with the network include the following:
Organising our largest Pride participation to date
Working with our lead sponsorship of the GAZE International LGBT Film Festival
Volunteering at Ireland’s first ever Trans Summit, a pilot project between Accenture and the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland to address, understand and respect transgender identities and experiences
Working with LGBT societies across Irish Universities sponsoring employment events and giving talks around mental health and the importance of Diversity and Inclusion
However, my most rewarding experience of being openly gay at Accenture was the opportunity to travel to London to participate in Stonewall’s LGBT Leadership program back in November 2016. Five of us from the Irish Office joined up with our colleagues in the UK network for two days of workshops which explored our personal coming out journeys and how we could use our experiences to be better gay role models in the office and more authentic, honest and effective leaders in our careers going forward. Throughout the training, we were able to explore ideas, identify gaps and begin to formulate solutions to continue to make Accenture one of the best places in Ireland and globally to work for as an LGBT employee. But most importantly, the training gave us the confidence and leadership capabilities to go home and do this ourselves rather than waiting for someone else to do it.
Since returning to Ireland, the 4 other London-Irish crew and I have been in meetings with some of the Accenture Leadership team and working with them through reverse mentoring sessions to chat about the issues and concerns of LGBT employees and garnering support for new Diversity and Inclusion initiatives we hope to implement in 2017. By being my authentic self at work I am now in an exciting and unprecedented position to be able to drive and execute positive change on a companywide level that will be felt for many years to come. All after only one year in the company.To finish on a quote by May Sarton that follows me in work and out of it:
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”