So What if You’re Gay?
Embracing Inclusion in Treasury
By Darren Rickards, Head of Corporate Banking CEEMEA, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Workforces are becoming more inclusive. Yet many LGBT+ employees still do not feel as if they can be their true selves at work – which has ramifications on performance and wellbeing. Darren Rickards, Head of Corporate Banking, CEEMEA and Co-Exec Sponsor of the EMEA LGBT Pride Employee Network at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, shares his experience of coming out at work, and outlines some practical tips for treasurers looking to encourage inclusivity within their teams.
For many, the 1980s were characterised by moments like Live Aid, Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding and the Big Bang. But for me, the optics were somewhat different. Section 28, a controversial clause that banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities and in Britain's schools, was promulgated by the UK government. The AIDS epidemic was met with fear and prejudice. And high-profile figures such as Elton John, Boy George and Freddie Mercury were considered ‘flamboyant’ rather than gay. As a gay man soon to enter the financial services workforce, the prospect of bringing my whole self to work was unthinkable.
Fast forward 30 years and society has changed immeasurably. The term ‘LGBT+’ is part of our daily vernacular; legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and – certainly in Britain – being gay is no longer a social taboo. When I started working in the financial services industry in the 1990s, I could never have imagined being ‘out’ at work, let alone seeing my employer change its logo to the rainbow flag in celebration of Pride month and in support of our many LGBT+ employees!
Yet whilst on the surface it would appear that progress has been made, it can be easy to forget that for many, their day-to-day experience can still be quite different. Initiatives to promote inclusion often fall short of the rhetoric, and whilst a multi-coloured flag and a parade float are important symbols, they do not mean much if your LGBT+ employees don’t feel valued for who they really are. There is clearly more work to do.
Promoting a diverse workforce should not be an objective – it should be an imperative. In my experience, the impact of being my true self at work has been profound. Being ‘hidden’ to colleagues for more than 20 years meant I adopted a separate ‘work personality’, which was exhausting. And there was a nervousness that actually being honest with colleagues would make it clear that for so long I had not been honest with them. Coming out at work was wrought with anxiety. But when I actually did it, the relief was profound, and today, having the freedom to be who I am at work, has made me a better professional, and I’m told, a far happier person to be around!
We must all tune in to the all-too-prevalent fears of our LGBT+ colleagues and create a culture of inclusion to help them not hide – but rather to be proud of who they are. A couple of years ago I mentored a young analyst who was unsure about telling his colleagues that he was gay. He wanted to come out, but was nervous about how it might damage his career and how he might be viewed by others. But staying in the closet was not an option for him; he would rather leave the bank than uphold the pretence of this ‘double life’. His story is just one of many and it’s shocking to think these experiences are happening in 2018, not just in generations past.
Whilst ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and PR initiatives quite rightly speak the language of inclusion, it’s up to all of us as individuals to create, encourage and foster an inclusive workforce. Looking at the treasury space, there are many practical steps treasurers can take to encourage frank conversations and to promote an open and honest culture:
Encourage your employees to bring their whole selves to work
Before I came out at work, I was a totally different person. I was headstrong and taciturn, and I avoided any conversation about my private life – which meant that my team saw me as rather aloof and distant. Coming out fundamentally changed this: being a more authentic version of myself has allowed me to become more outspoken, persuasive and engaged in my job. Removing the anxiety around coming out has freed me to concentrate on things that really matter and unleash my potential.
Watch your language and check your privilege
As any LGBT+ person knows, an off-the-cuff remark can delay coming out by months or even years. It is therefore so important that we watch our words and keep our teams in check, to make sure unconscious bias isn’t legitimised. Often, we will be completely unaware that casual conversations and terms of reference may ostracise others. Make a positive statement about inclusivity by cutting negative statements out of the conversation.
Take discrimination seriously in your recruitment and promotion practices
Establish a strong anti-discrimination policy and ensure that all employees know what is not tolerated in the workplace. In cases of homophobic bullying, promptly recognise the problem and take action.