During your time at macquarie as Managing Director and Co-Chair of the LGBTQ+ network in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region What did that role involve?

At Macquarie Group, the Pride EMEA network, is extremely visible and energetic, working with other internal stakeholders to promote an inclusive workplace where all employees feel psychologically safe to bring their whole selves to work. The network is open to all employees, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – and I am very proud that, during my time as Chair, its membership (including allies) snowballed from only about a dozen people to now include about one-third of all 2,000 or so Macquarie staff in the EMEA region.

Along with my fellow Co-Chairs, I oversaw and gave strategic guidance to a steering committee of highly committed staff members – both LGBTQ+ and allies – who produce a relentless campaign of educational, fundraising and celebratory events and communications campaigns to ensure that LGBTQ+ inclusion, in and out of the workplace, is always part of the corporate conversation. The network additionally curates training for allies, produces resources (such as guides for staff about all matters bi, trans and non-binary), and helps to equip executive management as inclusive leaders and role models through reverse mentoring. 

It also has a strong outward focus, devoting efforts to de-stigmatise the financial services industry in the eyes of potential LGBTQ+ entrants, and collaborating with, and supporting, multiple other LGBTQ+ organisations and networks, such as Interbank, Stonewall, the London Bisexual Network, Trans in the City, MyGwork, PinkNews, and the British LGBT Awards.

In recent years, aware of the compounded marginalising effects of having multiple minority characteristics, I have steered the network to an increasing focus on intersectionality, and the network has consequently led powerful collaborations with Macquarie’s other staff networks, including those for gender, minority ethnicity and parents/ carers.

Your remit was over the EMEA region which includes some countries which are not particularly recognised as LGBTQ+-friendly. What particular challenges do LGBTQ+ employees face in those countries?

Regrettably there remain many countries where being one’s authentic LGBTQ+ self is illegal (and, in some cases, even a capital offence), including in the EMEA region. Having lived and worked for three years in Singapore, where it is also still illegal to be gay, I can personally relate to the conundrum faced by staff in such countries, balancing the value of authenticity with the need for personal safety. 

I have been humbled many a time to receive comments from people in such challenging countries that my work or actions have helped them in their personal journeys – and by modelling best practices of inclusion organisations can and do encourage positive change, by keeping the issue high on the agenda. I remain optimistic that progress is coming – after all, during my own lifetime it has been illegal to be gay even in my home country, the UK!

How does Macquarie support its LGBTQ+ employees?

Macquarie aims to harness the power of diversity, equity and inclusion to create a sustainable, high-performing organisation by creating an environment where everyone can bring their whole selves to work. This is particularly critical for staff with “invisible” minority characteristics.

Macquarie is an inherently entrepreneurial organisation, empowering staff to identify and lead initiatives. This philosophy extends also to Macquarie’s support of its LGBTQ+ employees, mandating them to act as a positive force for change – by, for example, endorsing and funding the progressive agenda of employee network groups like Pride, operating under a wider, formalised DE&I structural architecture.

How important do you think it is for an LGBTQ+ person to be out at work?

Coming out at work is not always easy; I was halfway through my 35-year career before I grasped the nettle to do so. Context is everything; is it safe, will you suffer discrimination, or ostracism? Starting work in professional services in the conformity-oriented, highly heteronormative environment of the City of London in the 1980s (and later in Hong Kong and Singapore), I had not yet developed the personal resolve – or even, to be honest, the self-awareness – to be out at work. On reflection, there was insufficient psychological safety in my previous workplaces to allow me to take that step.

The value of being one’s authentic self, and of being able to commit to full workplace involvement without reservation for fear of outing oneself, is immeasurable. The benefits which being out at work brings to the individual are internal and external – improved mental well-being personally, as well as being a valuable example to others. Personally, I feel it is incumbent on me, and other leaders, to try to be such an example – as visible and vocal role models, both in and out of the workplace.

The feeling of not being alone, which relies heavily on visible role models and networking initiatives, the importance of which should never be underestimated, was a huge source of encouragement for me, especially when based in certain countries where attitudes about LGBTQ+ are less evolved. I recall the fortifying feeling of solidarity from attending networking events, like the colourfully named “Fruits in Suits” in Hong Kong and Singapore, which helped me no end in undergoing the process of bringing my whole self into my own workplace.

Did you receive any negative reactions when you came out in the workplace, and, if so, how did you deal with it?

Coming out at work was far from easy for me, not least because I was living in Asia at the time – with my family and potential support network several thousand miles away. In fact, it was not until I started work for a bank where my immediate departmental boss was gay, by which time I was close to moving back to Europe, that I felt able to come out at work. 

Fortunately, perhaps in part because of my relative seniority by then, I did not face much overt homophobia at work, although occasional inappropriate comments and assumptions were expressed (“You play competitive tennis? Really? What if you break a nail?”). My response was to own it! I was galvanised to fight for better awareness, education, and inclusion, and to that end, in 2010, a few colleagues and I jointly started the first LGBTQ+ staff network at my previous employer. I redoubled my efforts in this space when I joined Macquarie in 2013. 

What steps can an employer take to create a genuinely inclusive and diverse work force?

To create a genuinely inclusive and diverse work force, an environment of psychological safety, which I have already mentioned, is an absolute imperative for commercial organisations. Feeling comfortable to speak up, to be able express a contrary view or perspective, without having to worry about being adversely judged (or even censured), is critical to protect against risk and to promote organisational learning and improvement.

The importance of psychological safety is, I believe, self-evident; any instance where an employee feels the need to devote energy to the distraction of “covering”, or to withhold full participation in or contribution to workplace teams, generates a sub-optimal situation for the organisation (as well as the employee) – it makes no business sense. It can also be dangerous: limiting the diversity of respected perspectives, encouraging “groupthink”, and even, in the example of my own industry, financial services, adversely affect culture and conduct – an area of utmost focus these days for regulators. 

A formal commitment to DE&I, well-resourced and overseeing employee network groups are critical in facilitating this psychological safety. This includes encouraging and recognising the (typically voluntary, side-of-desk) efforts of staff at all levels who work to promote a culture of inclusion across all minority characteristics. 

In addition, it is essential to recognise that certain organisational features can be inherent barriers to full inclusion if not tackled. These include hierarchy, which can prevent “lower-ranking” voices being heard equally, and meritocracy, which can promote affinity bias and discourage contrary views.

And then, of course, there is role modelling: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” At all levels, visibility is important, but especially so for executive management in setting an inclusive tone from the top.

You’re a trustee of the charities GiveOut and Diversity Role Models. What are their missions?

GiveOut is an award-winning international LGBTQ+ community foundation, seeking to help address the shortage of resources and funding available to courageous activists working to protect and improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people in many countries, especially in the Global South and East. The LGBTQ+ community and its allies genuinely want to provide support, but often find it difficult to do so. GiveOut addresses this urgent need by providing a platform for supporters to give, tax efficiently and in one place, to fund LGBTQ+ human rights activism worldwide, while validating the merit of the recipient activist organisations. 

GiveOut is currently using resources raised to fund 33 LGBTQ+ organisations around the world. These include IraQueer, Iraq’s first LGBTQ+ organisation; TransWave, the leading organisation in Jamaica; and Rainbow Railroad, which has coordinated efforts to evacuate LGBTQ+ people from Afghanistan. By 2024, GiveOut’s ambition is to provide grants totalling at least £1 million annually. 

Diversity Role Models (DRM) is a UK LGBTQ+ charity which promotes inclusion and builds empathy through educational workshops in schools, featuring personal, lived-experience stories from LGBTQ+ and ally role models. 

The workshops help students understand the impact of their language and actions, equipping them with the skills to challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic comments and bullying happening within the student body, driving a shift in school culture towards celebrating and embracing differences. 

To ensure sustained change, student workshops are supplemented by the training of staff, governors, and parents/carers. In the past 10 years, DRM has delivered nearly 5,000 workshops to over 130,000 students. 

In the past few years, we have seen great advances in LGBTQ+ rights. What else remains to be done?

The terrific progress achieved by the LGBTQ+ community in recent years remains, fundamentally, fragile; that it should never be taken for granted is clear from the abundant evidence, near and far, that rights can quickly be rolled back and anti-LGBT+ sentiment can readily arise and swell.

So, although we must never stop striving for our ultimate goal of unfettered equality, we must equally acknowledge that not everyone is a believer, and consequently we must be on constant guard to ensure that backlashes are identified and addressed, in order to prevent our hard-won progress being forced into reverse.

To do this, we must emphasise intersectionality – no one is just LGBTQ+ – and outreach efforts which highlight similarities are essential to foster understanding and empathy. Intra-community echo chambers, although great for building morale and solidarity, can be dangerous places if they encourage too much introspection.

We must also acknowledge that the community is broad, spanning sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. For that reason, education (including self-education) about each other’s characteristics is essential to boost understanding as, despite the clear differences, much of the struggle is common. 

I personally find the sentiment within the community recently over trans rights and inclusion saddening and worrisome; as an ally, I wholeheartedly believe in full trans inclusion. A major challenge going forward is therefore to engage with the gender critical lobby and try to re-create solidarity; to resist negative external forces, we are much stronger when unified.

What has been your proudest achievement in this context?

I am humbled to have been recognised with several plaudits for my work promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion –including winning the Inspirational Leader Award at the British LGBT Awards in 2019, being shortlisted for the Corporate Role Model Award at the PinkNews Awards in 2018 (and 2022), and being ranked in OUTstanding’s list of the top 100 leading LGBTQ+ executives globally in each of 2018, 2019 and 2021. 

But what really makes me most proud is actually the difference I have been able to make, and am determined to continue making, in this space – whether boosting my employers on their DE&I journeys, mentoring many younger LGBTQ+ people (at work and in my personal time) and energising them to join the quest for inclusion, or supporting the work of many LGBTQ+ charities and other multilateral platforms and organisations. In the future, I plan to devote an increasing portion of my time to all of these – there is a never a lack of things to prioritise!