For a long time in my career, I chose to be silent on LGBTQ+ issues. I wasn’t closeted, but I simply didn’t speak about it or see it as being part of my professional self. Everything changed when a senior executive at a firm I served as Chief of Staff in encouraged me to take part in a video about growing up LGBTQ+ alongside colleagues to raise awareness of that experience. The video sparked a wave of outpouring love from colleagues, making me realize two things: That owning my identity actually felt good; and by doing that, I could positively impact others who otherwise lacked a role model at the senior levels of the organization.
There’s a light and a shadow in being openly gay. When I chose to embrace my identity rather than protect it, I became a better leader, colleague, husband, son, friend, and mentor. Fear can overshadow potential, so it takes a vast amount of inner determination and self-curiosity to overcome it and become whole. If good leadership is much about authenticity and compassion towards others, it starts from within.
Growing up as LGBTQ+ can infuse emotions and triggers with which many of my peers can likely relate. When 14-year-old me felt something was “off” compared to my classmates, he could barely comprehend why. In those formative years, my natural instinct was to combat it rather than develop it. Only after many years did I start defining and embracing who I really was. The experiences I’ve been through shaped me into the professional and leader I am today, and while the road was bumpy, I now would not have it any other way.
Fear can overshadow potential, so it takes a vast amount of inner determination and self-curiosity to overcome it and become whole as an LGBTQ+ leader.
Leaders should ask, “Are we doing our jobs correctly if we’re not nurturing a space where everyone can unleash their true self?” Creating a safe space where employees can talk and ask is extremely powerful, and it signals care for individuals. When I joined Egon Zehnder, there was a gap there. So I, together with some wonderful partners in crime, helped create ez+, our employee resource group for LGBQT+ members and allies. Participating in this platform has been much more humbling than I could have imagined. For instance, I’ve been very fortunate that people came out to me or shared with me deeply personal stories about their lives and that of their families. They said they felt confident by observing me mention my husband in client-facing interactions, which may seem small, but gave them the confidence to see that being LGBTQ+ and succeeding professionally were not mutually exclusive. How super cool is that?
I’m still working on what kind of role model I want to be. I've been encouraging colleagues to lean in, learn terminology, be kind to themselves, and feel comfortable discussing LGBTQ+ matters. As a Firm, we also help clients and candidates uncover what makes them exceptional through our search and advisory work. Ultimately, it comes down to humans identifying their sources of strength and simply telling their stories as LGBTQ+. Imagine we didn’t do that. We’d be wasting an opportunity to shape an environment where people and organizations blossom and where an individual can thrive.
At every level, LGBTQ+ professionals should know that there’s real value in not shying away from being vocal about your identity.
At every level, LGBTQ+ professionals should know that there’s real value in not shying away from being vocal about your identity. Ensure you get your point across in the places you occupy. If you are a seasoned, happy, successful professional, it’s not some accident. It means you've been drawing up from your unique experiences as an LGBTQ+ person. It’s about your authenticity. The ups and downs of this experience shape you into the great individual that you will be in the future.
Pride is not all about celebrating and waving colorful flags. There is also a more serious side of continuing to mark and protest the systematic discrimination that many LGBTQ+ communities continue to suffer right across the world. But it is also about creating a wave of positive impact across the board, through being vocal about your identity. If no one knows you are LGBTQ+, you may limit your ability to have these wonderfully positive, unintentional impact stories on people in or outside your organization who may be on the lookout for someone just like you to signal that, no matter the fears or struggles they may be going through, everything is going to be OK.