Embed inclusiveness in your culture to nurture LGBTIQ+ leaders

I think it’s fair to say organisations want to attract, retain and develop the best talent possible. But if our LGBTIQ+ employees don’t feel like they can reach their potential, we need to remove the barriers and allow them to develop as leaders in their own unique way.

As the co-chair of KPMG Australia’s Pride Network, I support our network to mature, growing our strategies to make our workplaces safe and inclusive for everyone. Through this, it’s been reassuring to see so much support from our senior leaders and allies.

This has caused me to stop and reflect on my own journey that started with KPMG some 16 years ago when I moved from the UK to Australia.  As I moved half way across the world, aged 25, I made a conscious decision to be openly out in my new workplace.  This felt like a brave decision at the time, especially knowing that I was the only openly gay person in my small office of 45 people. Whilst the workplace has changed over the last 16 years, and people have come and gone, my experience has remained the same; my colleagues have been 100% supportive, have shown a genuine interest and respectful curiosity.  There is no question that this work environment significantly contributed to my decision to stay at KPMG and to invest in my career with this organisation.

I know the support and acceptance I received isn’t always the case and that is certainly reflected in the statistics of people being out in workplaces globally. The proportion still in the closet at work is 46 percent in the US, 39 percent in Australia and 35 percent in the UK.

It can be hard to feel like your workplace is inclusive when there are very few out role models in leadership. Just 0.3 per cent of directors of Fortune 500 companies are openly LGBT+, according to Out Leadership, a corporate equality network.

So how do we change that? There is much to do and many ways forward.

First we need to embed inclusiveness into our culture by continuing to focus on empowering allies through education and awareness. We need to celebrate days of significance such as International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) and we need to continue to support internal pride networks that provide safe spaces for everyone to connect and feel supported.

These actions help to embed inclusive behaviours into our micro cultures but how do we empower our LGBTIQ+ talent who often feel like they hit something called the ‘LGBTIQ+ Glass Ceiling’ or ‘Rainbow Ceiling’?

In 2019, I was proud to be a mentor in our first ever talent development program for LGBTIQ+ employees, Leading with Pride. The Leadership program creates a safe space where high-performing LGBTIQ+ employees are able to further develop their leadership skills and become the bold leaders KPMG wants them to be. The program focuses on self-acceptance, emotional intelligence and finding strength in authentic leadership. Many LGBTIQ+ people attempt to hide their sexuality at some point, which means they are suppressing a core part of who they are due to fear of it being unacceptable. And even after coming out, the effects of having been in the closet can have long term impacts and impact someone’s career and leadership style. Leading with Pride aims to undo some of the beliefs, around perfectionism, pleasing people and conforming to fit in, being in the closet has instilled in us.

On top of this deeply personal journey, the program also pairs people with our senior leaders as mentors as we cannot be what we cannot see.

It takes all of us to create a place where everyone feels safe and included. Seeing our future LGBTIQ+ leaders being supported by our firm and their peers to be proud of who they are truly gives me hope that, in the future, people won’t fear coming out but know their experiences and their self-knowledge are our greatest strengths.



3 thoughts on “Embed inclusiveness in your culture to nurture LGBTIQ+ leaders

  1. Heather – what an inspirational article. As a newbie to KPMG I am excited by the commitment to an inclusive culture and the dedication to implement and support programs where needed – like the Leading with Pride program you mention. By bringing our whole selves to work together we will achieve amazing things. Proud to be a part of KPMG.

  2. Heather – great article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights into some practical steps employers can take for a more inclusive workplace. Really proud of KPMG and our people!

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