"When we enter our working life, it's important for us to look up and see people we can relate to"

Written by
Mary Appleton

14 Dec 2016

14 Dec 2016 • by Mary Appleton

When I started my career, I looked around at the leadership and my colleagues for signs that it would be "ok to be gay" but found none, which pushed me back into the closet. This changed for me at BP where we have an openly out gay CEO for the trading business. It gives me courage and also the expectation that being gay will not impact my career.

Within BP, we have BP Pride – a business resource group which works with the business to ensure BP is a leader in LGBT and creates an inclusive environment for its LGBT employees. Its work can be distilled into three distinct areas: talent attraction, development and retention. I'm proud to co-chair the network.

We all grow up with our heroes – whether it’s Superman or Spiderman – regardless of our sexuality but when we grow up and enter our working life, it’s important for us to look up and see people we can relate to, people who may have had the same experiences or fears but managed to break through and become successful. 

We promote all development opportunities through the pride network, provide mentoring opportunities for our members and are currently working with HR to implement a talent pipeline where we will be able to track LGBT staff development and provide support in areas where it is most needed. We have also embedded LGBT tags within our graduate resourcing teams. 

Along with the other BP Pride executives, I am the bridge to help close the gaps we see in the business. This could range from providing support to our leadership teams, globally, in which language to use, helping a new member of staff integrate, help HR build their policies or simply to organise career development events for our staff. I ensure we are leading in this space so that we get the best talent that is out there.

As a business leader, you don't have to identify as LGBT to get involved in this agenda, allies are important. We realised that to really make a difference we couldn’t work alone, we needed to talk to the non-LGBT community as well. 

Research from the Center for Talent Innovation shows that while many heterosexual employees define themselves as allies of their LGBT co-workers, only a small percentage — 12% of men and 23% of women — qualify as an ‘active ally’, in other words, someone who has performed two or more LGBT-supporting actions, such as aiding a co-worker in his or her coming out, or speaking up to co-workers in defence of LGBT people. 

Demonstrate visible leadership, educate yourself about the issues facing LGBT employees and make it personal. 

Finally, data is key: without it, you are unable to quantify – and therefore respond to – challenges within your organisation. We started this journey a few years back by including the opportunity for employees to declare their sexual orientation (voluntarily and anonymously) in our annual staff survey.  Show you are serious by sharing the results and what you plan to do to address feedback.