As an openly gay woman, have you had to overcome barriers in your career?
I’m sure I’ve experienced some barriers because of my sexual orientation and gender presentation (which leans toward the masculine). But it’s impossible to know for sure about the opportunities that don’t come your way, and it would drive you mad if you were constantly worried about that.
Everyone has challenges and advantages. I’ve never felt I haven’t been taken seriously at work – something many female executives say they experience. I suspect my gender presentation may be an ‘advantage’ in that area – though I’m mindful, as a feminist, that we need to work as a society to correct all forms of bias.
Why are so few LGBT people in board-level positions?
Until Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, came out publicly a few years ago, there were no openly gay Fortune 500 CEOs, and now there is one. I think many people hesitated to come out because they correctly surmised that being the first would entail a lot of unwanted attention – a focus on identity rather than performance.
Tim deserves credit for being brave enough to take the blitz of coverage. As being a gay leader becomes normalised, hopefully it will become a non-issue.
How should workplace prejudice be tackled?
If it’s overt, talk to HR. If it’s harder to pin down, talk to a trusted friend or colleague. Is it possible you’re misinterpreting it? If it continues to bother you, it’s worth addressing the person directly, in a calm and non-accusatory manner.
How will the workforce evolve in the next 10 years?
It will become more diverse as the result of immigration patterns. I hope companies recognise the competitive advantage that brings. Research shows that diverse boards and teams excel.
How can organisations foster an inclusive culture?
Even in companies with nondiscrimination policies, many employees feel a need to ‘downplay’ elements of their personal identities. You might be technically ‘out’, but uncomfortable putting a picture of your partner on your desk. That’s deleterious, both to the employee and the corporate culture.
Leaders must be models for the entire organisation by ‘uncovering’ – which means showing openness in talking about their own lives.