← Back to Hub

10 takeaways from LGBTQ2+ senior leaders

Author image
Kerri Moore
Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
July 19, 2021

We have the pleasure of working with many talented LGBTQ2+ community members, and now that Pride Month is over, we wanted to continue the conversation of how you can make your business more inclusive. 

Though there has been tremendous work done to improve the rights of LGBTQ2+ folks, we recognize how much work still needs to be done. 

We sat down with Nadine Payne, Senior Vice President, Commercial Lending Management at Citi, Alim Dhanji, President of adidas Canada, and Corey Muñoz, Chief Learning Officer at KPMG, to hear their stories of success and allyship, and learn how we can all work towards a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

1. Allyship is everything

Corey starts by telling us how important his mentor has been to his career. “My mentor made me believe in myself. The biggest thing she helped me with was to give me that confidence, and help me expand my horizons on what I thought I could do. She definitely pushed me and supported me along the way.”  

When a new position opened up in his company, Corey’s mentor pushed him to apply for the role. “ She handed it to me [the job description] and said ‘you’re ready’. That always stands out for me because I don’t think I would have made that jump otherwise.” 

Nadine’s views of allyship reflects the need for allyship to be a hands-on effort. “It is important that allyship is more than a “check box” exercise; that individuals take proactive steps to show up for their LGBTQ2+ friends and colleges.”

For Alim, it was after he secured his new role that he really felt the support of his mentors. “I quickly surrounded myself with mentors from my own team and other leaders across adidas who were more than happy to share best practices, experiences, risks, etc.” 

Alim adds “Almost always, people want to help you be successful. As a result of my current mentors, I am able to be a better leader for my team and create a high performance organization.” 

2. Listen and be visible 

The inclusive practise that has helped Corey most in his career is, “The ability to see people in your community in senior roles. It’s been hard to find at times, but has helped me a lot. If that person has been successful, then I can be successful too. It also shapes the way I lead; it’s important to pay it forward and be visible to others” 

Nadine, too, knows the importance of leader visibility, “Citi senior leadership is wonderfully committed to being engaged, active leaders. For instance, we have had participations from the highest levels of management, at our Pride celebrations, both cheering on from the side and presenting directly. The commitment from leadership to being visible, active allies, sets the tone from the top of the organization which, in my opinion, elevates the importance placed on true inclusivity.”

Alim, on the other hand, has benefited most from those who can lend an ear. “What has helped me the most is to be an active listener. It takes restraint not to jump in and solve problems but really listening requires empathy and understanding of someone’s lived experience and subtext. Getting to know someone helps to better understand their perspective.”

Alim also notes that this is a skill he’s taken on himself. “In a leadership role where relationships are so critical, listening carefully helps me to respond in a more relevant way vs jumping to biases of what I feel is important.”  

3. Be transparent

As a first step towards increasing inclusivity in your business, Corey suggests being open to your pitfalls. “We’re transparent about what we’re doing well at and what we’re not doing so well at, and hold ourselves accountable.” 

Putting these insights into action, Corey and his team coach high potential talent in underrepresented groups to set them up for success in leadership positions years before it’s time for them to move up.

“One of the big things I’m working on is really making leadership development accessible to all. It is by definition not equal and accessible, so we’ve shifted our strategy to look at how we prepare leaders years before they step into the role. We’re focusing on advancing future leaders and providing a similar experience to all, which translates to more representation, inclusivity, and making things more equitable.”

Nadine adds insight into ways individuals can increase visibility by bringing their full and true self to work, even under very difficult circumstances. “The past 18 months have been hard for many of us. It has been important to show one’s humanity, especially as we face these new hardships. Our home lives have crept into and become more visible in our professional lives. However, the pandemic, even with all of the difficulties, has created a greater opportunity to be your full self as you work. Managing professionally while coping personally with the pandemic has created a unique opening for companies and individuals alike to practice a level of transparency which may not have been available historically. We have been able to meet each other with empathy and support. I am hopeful that this openness will live on as the resumption of in-person work continues.”

4. The importance of networking and mentorship

Alim argues that we should be looking at networking and mentorship to help advance all employees. “The value of networking and mentoring is universal and not specific to advancing LGBTQ2+ people, but it’s key to making someone feel included. Fundamentally, it’s about making genuine and authentic connections and building relationships without a specific motive. It’s through these relationships where credibility and confidence is built which can then unlock opportunities to advance.” 

Corey adds, “It takes leaders who have been there, done that to mentor and advise. I also get a lot from mentorship relationships as a mentor.”

Nadine believes strongly that career development would be impossible without networking and mentoring. “Mentoring and networking are important for meaningful career development for many professionals. For those in underrepresented groups, mentorship and sponsorship can play an even more pivotal role in their trajectory and success. Sponsorship, for example, can increase the likelihood that an employee will reach for more challenging assignments, or advocate for income equity for themselves. I personally credit the mentors and sponsors that I have had in my career for some of the opportunities and successes which have come my way.”

5. Be human 

Corey stresses the importance of having more human interactions with your team. “As a leader, you have to be really intentional about your interactions, how you check in, and when you reach out. The boundaries of work and life are gone so you have to be willing to talk about anything.”

For Nadine, being open with her team means realizing how far we still have to go. “I am heartened by the demonstrated commitment to continuing the work reflected in conversations with my team. Effective teams consist of truly engaged members who feel that their contributions are seen as valuable. I am fortunate to have that type of support in my career. That said, more work is still needed to ensure that we are all able to experience our “humanness” as a positive contribution of diverse perspectives that accrete benefits to our organizations and beyond.”

6. Put your inclusivity goals into action

For organizations who are trying to turn inclusivity goals into leader and manager actions, Corey remarks that we should focus on the skills that people managers are best at and capitalize on them. “Rather than throwing everything their way and expecting them to have the skills to master it all, enable them to do what they’re good at.” 

In addition, he suggests “It goes back to identifying those real pivotal moments that matter to employees and being really intentional.”

Nadine adds, “We all have a responsibility to keep organizational leadership accountable. Our voices need the amplification of their support to make meaningful and lasting changes within our respective organizations and beyond.” 

7. Set boundaries

As advice for LGBTQ2+ employees, Corey shares his thoughts on boundaries and having a solid network. 

“My mind goes to boundaries and making sure that you have a healthy balance in your life, in whatever way that makes sense for you. Since that wall of work and life doesn’t exist any longer, it can be very easy to get consumed in one or the other. “

Corey adds, “Having a support network at work is key. It doesn't have to be other LGBTQ2+ people, but it’s important to know you can call a friend. Most LGBTQ2+ people are in cities, perhaps in small apartments, working from home - the ability to step out or call someone you can confide in is really important in this world.” 

8. Be yourself

For Alim, being ‘out’ and proud has helped him be his complete self at work. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work at progressive companies who not only “tolerate” LGBTQ2+ people but “celebrate” them. As a result, I’ve never felt it to be a factor which has helped me advance nor come in the way of opportunities. However, being publicly out as a leader has perhaps helped me be more authentic, vulnerable, and confident in who I am. It has helped me to have more genuine relationships with colleagues by not hiding a part of me.”

Nadine is often called upon to participate in certain activities, due in part to being an active, out member of the LGBTQ2+ community, but also due to her outgoing personality. “I don’t mind thatI’m called upon to share my views or experiences. For me, these events serve as a short, visual cue to other LGBTQ2+ folks of what is possible when they embrace being themselves.”

9. Be a role model 

Alim remarks “I wish we didn’t need to have the headline of athletes publicly coming out or leaders who are highlighted as being LGBTQ2+. Whilst we’ve come a long way when it comes to basic human rights for LGBTQ2+ people, there is still much work to be done. For now, having someone to look up to in a leadership role or someone public with a platform is very important as it creates hope, shows progress, advocacy, representation, and solidarity.”  

He adds, “I’m rather a shy and private person but I feel it to be a privilege and sense of obligation to leverage my role as a leader to help accelerate inclusion, cultivate sustainable change, and demonstrably show that being publicly out doesn’t limit possibilities for advancement.”  

For Nadine, being able to find opportunities to act as a role model for others in the LGBTQ2+ is equally as important to finding those role models externally. “I recently participated as panelist in a recent Pride discussion that touched upon some of the challenges of navigating work as an out member of the LGBTQ2+ communities (in my case as an out Black lesbian). The outpouring of comments and even questions that were received in response to the panel discussion highlighted the importance of sharing our stories and being a resource for others. We don’t have to be famous to be a resource for others.” 

10. Celebrate Pride!

Alim stresses the importance of providing learning opportunities during Pride. “At work, we had global, regional, and local events and activities throughout the month to bring our LGBTQ2+ colleagues and allies together to celebrate pride. We’ve also been conscious to create space to learn about various topics that are important to the LGBTQ2+ community, and raise awareness on topics of inclusion.”

Alim also remarks that this year’s Pride is an important time for his family. “Our kids are now at an age where we can talk about what Pride is, which makes it extra special for us. My husband and I celebrated with them since we weren’t able to attend any events this year in person.”

For Nadine, Pride will be about celebrating all of who she is, not just one element of it. “I celebrated Pride by celebrating my Blackness, my femaleness (or womanhood), my friendships and my family (born and chosen). Even though I am part of the LGBTQ2+ community, these other aspects of my identity are equally important to me and I make an effort to fold them into my celebration of Pride. This year and always.”

Now that the streamers and glitter have been swept away, and rainbow-hued corporate logos have reverted to their original designs, it is important that we preserve our feelings of Pride and that organizations redouble their efforts to recognize and celebrate LGBTQ2+ employees. 

Pride month may have ended for the year, but the need for organizations to adopt practices that create safe and supportive environments for all employees continues.

It’s time to put your diversity, equity, and inclusion plans into action - and we can help you do just that. 

See how you can start to build a more inclusive workplace with Ten Thousand Coffees here.

Continue reading