Bringing my whole self to work
I think it’s fair to say that when people think of financial services they don’t automatically think of it as a progressive sector for diversity and inclusion.
However, in my experience valuing people and equality is at its heart. The sector is one of the most diverse and its inherent global nature means that I am constantly meeting new and different people.
At Bank of America Merrill Lynch we have a saying that the business wholeheartedly embraces – ‘bring my whole self to work’.
For me, this means being openly ‘out’ at work. By bringing my whole self, including my sexual orientation, to the office, I have been able to use the strengths that come from being part of a minority to develop and grow.
I started my career working in the Post Room and I am now a Business Support manager within the Global Corporate Services team, with responsibilities including reporting, governance, compliance, financial budgeting and analysis across EMEA and Latin America.
This is not something I could have achieved without being able to be myself.
This realization has given me the courage to also want to help others recognize the importance of being yourself in the workplace.
After all, as was shown in a study by the Center for Work-Life Policy published in the Harvard Business Review, keeping your sexual orientation isolated from your work life can have an extremely negative impact on your career, with workers who aren’t out to their colleagues 73% more likely to say they intend to leave their company in the next three years compared with those who are out.
Diversity is one of our greatest strengths as a business and that’s why it’s important that we create an environment where colleagues feel comfortable.
As a member of the regional and global LGBT networks, I work with teams across the world to represent the bank’s employees. I have also chaired the Interbank Network three times, which brings together 22 financial services firms to share best practice and work together for equality in our sector.
Building global advocacy
Until 2011 I focused on working with Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Diversity and Inclusion team and the internal LGBT network. After attending the 2011 Out and Equal conference in Dallas with a colleague we were inspired to create a wider, truly global Ally program within the company.
As those who are out at work will know, it’s incredibly important to have support from your colleagues, whatever their sexual orientation. Creating an Ally program for our company therefore made complete sense to us – after all, what better way to celebrate the diversity and strength of our organization than by helping people to publicly support their colleagues?
When we started to create the program, we knew that several businesses had set up similar networks. What quickly became clear was that the majority of these networks were concentrated at a local level, with very few extending across borders. As a global organization, we needed a program that could reach all our markets.
The Bank of America Merrill Lynch LGBT Pride Ally Program, as it is now known, focuses on engaging and educating employees about the issues LGBT employees face and encourages them to speak up and support their colleagues around the world.
Created with the support of a senior ally and drawing on volunteers from the company’s LGBT networks, we launched the program in 2013, created training materials and guides, a thought-provoking video (which you can see below) and a series of other promotional resources designed to encourage our employees to promote their involvement – after all being an ally means you are willing to speak out and challenge.
The reaction was overwhelming. We received countless messages of support, with over 3,500 employees registering to be allies in the first 10 months.
Getting this level of support in so short a time was a great achievement for the team and the program has since won several international awards. However, it was its success in supporting our LGBT community that really stood out.
The network of allies we have created empowers people to be who they are at work. I have had messages from colleagues who have worked here for over 30 years and only now feel comfortable coming out. For some people, seeing their boss become an ally has given them the courage to speak up.
In fact, after launching the program we increased the Europe, Middle East and Africa LGBT network membership from 240 to over 680 members in just eight weeks. This number continues to rise.
We hadn’t anticipated this level of enthusiasm and are immensely proud that the forum we’ve created for colleagues to register as allies also became a place for people to share their stories.
One of the most striking aspects of my experience has been to witness the growth of a network of LGBT employees and allies in countries where society is not as open when it comes to sexual orientation.
In Asia for example, we now have over 300 allies and a growing number of LGBT chapters are being established. It has been important for colleagues who are working in countries where they cannot be open to know they have vocal allies within the company.
Celebrating our diversity
Establishing the Ally program has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career to date. Seeing the impact an ally can have on improving the quality of a person’s working life, often just by promoting themselves as an ally, is incredible.
In the future, I hope there will be no need for allies, although I recognize that while the LGBT community continues to be persecuted and criminalized, there will always be a requirement for advocates.
The next step for our program is to continue to grow the number of allies around the world, with a long term ambition to reach 25,000. We have also had requests to share the program and our experiences with other companies so that they too can use this as a framework.
I hope my experience encourages other people to develop ally programs within their companies or to get involved with their organization’s LGBT network. My experiences have taught me that bringing my whole self to work is crucial to happiness and success.
I firmly believe that by working together we can ensure that everyone, from the CEO to the men and women in the Post Room, can be who they are.