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.