Bringing My Whole Self to Work

June 30, 2014“My name is Glen and I identify as a gay man."

I’m not the type of person to stand on a stage and talk about the most intimate elements of my very being.  I have historically kept my private life exactly that: private…and yet I find myself sharing this with total strangers.  But why? 

Much earlier in my career I was bullied for being gay and quickly learned to do my job, keep a low profile, and fit in. I now know that this is traditionally the norm for people who identify as LGBTI working in cultures where differences are not tolerated.  When I think about what equality means to me, I reflect back to that workplace and compare it to today, where I have had leaders who know me, know I am gay and value my contribution—not because of my sexual orientation but because of the skill set and diversity of thought I bring to the job.  Bringing my whole self to work has made me happy, which in turn has increased my productivity and benefited the business. 

When I joined National Australia Bank (NAB) in 2008, there were no visible signs that it was okay to be gay, and at that time this was common across banks in Australia.   It wasn’t obvious why there needed to be a focus on LGBTI employees—there were no bullying complaints, and there was only a small number of people who identified as LGBTI.  But therein lay the problem.  The message was the same as it had been early in my career: don’t make waves, stay hidden. 

It took until 2012 for a group of passionate individuals to start an employee resource group named [email protected] whose primary goal is to continue the journey towards a safe and inclusive workplace culture. 

I thought coming out was tough—and it was—but I had reached what Alan Downs  (The Velvet Rage) terms the final stage in a gay man’s life: “cultivating authenticity,” where you begin to build a life that is based upon your own passions and values.  The first time I stood in front of a group of relative strangers at work and talked about being gay, explaining the value of an inclusive culture and what could be done to create necessary change, was daunting. 

But in the just two years since [email protected] was formed, I’m immensely proud of the very tangible progress we’ve made. Though there is still a lot more to be done, LGBTI employees feel more engaged towards the organisation, and there’s an increase in the number of people who feel comfortable enough to come out in the workplace.  

I’m often asked by leaders why [email protected] has generated more visible momentum than other employee resource groups. On these occasions, I reflect on the individuals who volunteer their personal time and their genuine passion to realise an inclusive culture where differences are valued.   Along the way, we have heard authentic experiences from our people. It is these stories as much as anything that helps us strive for equality.

We have also had external parties come and share their experiences with our staff, which has reinforced that the issue of inclusion runs deeper than just within the walls of NAB.

There have been so many highlights on our journey. Amongst them is that LGBTI employees are becoming visible—genuinely so. In the process, the stereotype images are being destroyed and replaced with a new image of LGBTI leaders. 

I am so proud to work for an organisation that genuinely celebrates differences and wants people to realise their potential. Being allowed to contribute in this way provides me with a strong feeling of engagement—more so than monetary reward ever could.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.