The most recent addition to our 2020 British LGBT Awards judging panel is LGBT+ Inspirational Leader, Geffrye Parsons.
At Macquarie, Geff has chaired the Pride network for almost six years, winning multiple accolades for his commitment to LGBT+ workplace equality. He also won our coveted LGBT+ Inspirational Leader award in 2019! In this interview he shares his wisdom.
Q: What do you personally feel is the most important LGBT+ issue we are facing at the moment?
The terrific progress achieved by the LGBT+ 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 LGBT+, and outreach efforts – which emphasise 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.
Q: Have you got any stories that have helped you be out in the workplace?
In my experience, the energy, and perhaps even courage, required to come out in the workplace can be garnered from both good and bad factors.
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 working internationally in certain countries where attitudes about LGBT+ are less evolved than in the UK – and where, in the case of Singapore for example, being LGBT+ remains illegal. I recall the fortifying feeling of solidarity from attending networking events, like the colourfully named ‘Fruits in Suits’, which helped me no end in undergoing the process of bringing my whole self into my own workplace.
Equally, the less evolved attitudes of certain people that I have encountered over the years – especially before they became aware that I am gay – was a galvanising force, encouraging me to stand up and be counted. It is a decision I wish I had reached sooner, and which since then I have never even remotely regretted.
Q: What tips would you give other out leaders to use their position effectively?
“Leadership, in the context of progressing LGBT+ equality, is all about role modelling and pioneering.”
I feel it is incumbent on me and other leaders to be visible and vocal role models, both in and out of the workplace, in order to overcome the “you can’t be what you can’t see” barrier to people’s openly embracing their full identity. In fact, anyone can (indeed, should) act as a role model, regardless of their nominal seniority, status or age.
Furthermore, a leader can be most effective in this field by pushing for positive change through pioneering efforts in any number of aspects, from the basic promotion of awareness, and including, for example, undertaking and encouraging charitable efforts – in which regard there is clearly no shortage of need or opportunity.
Q: Why is it important to be out at work? Who has inspired you / been your role model?
The importance of psychological safety, and the value of bringing one’s whole self to work, have been demonstrated irrefutably by many studies in recent years. It 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. For the individual, the benefits are both internal and external – improved mental wellbeing personally, as well as being a valuable example to others.
There have been a number of senior executives, with or for whom I have worked during my 30+ year career, from whom I have drawn inspiration as role models – both LGBT+ people and allies. Conversely, I have also observed many people, including in positions of seniority, displaying attitudes and behaviours indicative of ignorance or, worse, of prejudice; and, for me, the urge to tackle those challenges has been no less of an inspiration.
Q: Apart from your career, what other areas of life are important to you at the moment?
Being in a position to make a difference, my ‘gay’ job – pushing for LGBT+ equality in as many ways as I can – is as fundamental a part of my DNA these days as is my ‘day’ job at Macquarie, an organisation where I am very proud to work, not only for its reputation as a financial services provider, but also for its powerful commitment to diversity and inclusion, including its support of efforts by people like me in pushing for LGBT+ equality.
LGBT+ people of my (middle!) age, and of course those older, have long faced challenges and constraints in building a family, though happily many of those are now being overcome, for example by marriage equality, the ability to have children (through adoption, fostering or surrogacy), and of course life longevity from medical advances, not least in the treatment of HIV. For that reason, doubtless like many others in the community, my own family – by which I mean primarily my husband, Kevin – is, and will always be, of unparalleled importance to me.
Q: What are your views on the LGBT+ community, unity and the recent reports on the LGB Alliance (leaving out the ‘T’)?
“There is real strength in unity, but conversely nothing in my view is more potentially damaging to the cause than in-fighting within the LGBT+ community.”
It is important to acknowledge that the community is a ‘broad church’; in particular, trans and non-binary relate to gender identity and expression, which is not at all the same thing as – and need not correlate with – sexual orientation, which defines the LGB parts of the community.
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 acknowledge that there remain many challenges, especially in the area of gender identity – witness, for example, the pickle into which even a long-time LGB pioneer like Martina Navratilova (as an avid tennis fan, a particular hero of mine) recently got herself with unedifying comments about trans women. So this will be difficult and will take time; but isn’t that the case for everything worth fighting for?
Q: How has Macquarie supported its LGBT+ employees?
Macquarie is entrepreneurial, placing a lot of emphasis on employee-led initiatives, which fit within but help to develop its strategy. Being fully aware of the value of, and therefore supportive of, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, this philosophy extends also to Macquarie’s support of its LGBT+ employees, empowering its staff to act as a positive force for change – by, for example, mandating and endorsing the progressive agenda of employee network groups like Pride at Macquarie, the LGBT+ network.
This is a symbiotic relationship too: the network is empowered, with formal backing, to pursue avenues to ensure that Macquarie is a fully LGBT+ friendly work environment, and from which environment Macquarie, as a commercial organisation, naturally benefits. In the UK and the EMEA region, in particular, the plaudits won by Macquarie in this space in recent years – including multiple ‘Top 100 Employer’ rankings by Stonewall, and Pink News’ inaugural ‘Business Equality’ award in recognition of its work promoting LGBT+ equality within and beyond the workplace – are indicative of the efforts devoted by Macquarie to supporting its LGBT+ employees.