* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.The reality is that even in the most progressive countries, being out at work is not a given. It’s still an issue.
Today, I am thrilled to appear on the 2017 OUTstanding LGBT+ Public/Third Sector Executive list presented by the Financial Times. It’s a terrific vote of confidence and a true honour to be listed among so many other inspirational leaders who are taking concrete action to advance LGBT equality.
I was recently asked what was the point of a list ranking LGBT professionals and allies. ‘Aren’t you creating a ghetto?’ was the exact wording.
The OUTstanding List published by the business paper is not just a ranking. It sends a powerful message across London's financial centre and beyond: the LGBT community is precisely the opposite of a ghetto, in fact it’s at the centre of our economic model. There is no shame in being who you are; embrace inclusion and you’ll win, ignore it and you’ll be worse off.
Do I identify myself only by my sexual orientation? Of course not. There is much more than sexual orientation to any human being, and each and every one of us should never be put in a box or stereotyped.
But sometimes you need to have the courage to challenge discrimination and prejudice - and lead the way to make a change.
I grew up in Italy, with zero LGBT role models. There was no one officially out at school, on TV, in parliament, in town. I cannot even claim to have been ‘the only gay in the village’ as I hadn’t come out even to myself.
The reason? I had no one to look up or even relate to. I was scared that coming out would mean that I would have never have a successful career and that I would lose my friends. I was also extremely worried about the implications of coming out to my family.
I was lucky enough that my studies took me to London, where even before finishing university, I began a career in the media, working as a reporter for the world’s biggest business news channel.
Looking back, there is no doubt that I wouldn’t have become the person I am today if it wasn’t for my life London and for the environment in which I found myself.
My first boss was an openly gay woman; her boss was an openly gay man. It goes without saying that I felt immediately at ease. But I was lucky: the TV industry is very well known for its diversity and acceptance.
BACK IN THE CLOSET
The reality is that even in the most progressive countries, being out at work is not a given. It’s still an issue. According to an eye-opening report by Human Rights Campaign, 62 percent of LGBT graduates in the United States go back into the closet after starting their first job.
I was in the closet at work, briefly. I was working with a team of Italians, here in London. The banter I was exposed to on a daily basis was revolting. I was petrified of being outed. Each Monday was horrific, I had to make up stories about what I had done over the weekend, being careful not to mix up my pronouns.
No one should go through that. It’s morally disgraceful and it makes no business sense. I was among the best performing members of that team, but – guess what - I run away from that job as fast as I could. Why on earth would I want to wake up in the morning and hear the word ‘faggot’ used as naturally as the word ‘coffee’?
The HRC report found that 26 percent of LGBT people stay in a job because the environment is accepting. It’s a win-win. According to a research by Credit Suisse, companies with openly LGBT staff outperformed their competitors by 3 percent. Yet Credit Suisse also found that 72 percent of senior LGBT executives have not come out openly at work.
And that’s why lists still matter. Clearly, the idea of being your own self at work is not as ‘common sense’ as one might think.
More than half of the world’s countries have no measures to prevent work discrimination against LGBT people. The role of business in advancing inclusion and promoting a culture of respect and equality is paramount. By taking the lead, business will actually foster more tolerant corporate partners and – overall - stronger communities.
I want to live in a world where sexual orientation becomes as irrelevant as the colour of someone’s eyes. But we are a long way from that. So until then, let’s speak up for who we are and lead the way.
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