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Pride stories: How coming out at work made me a better leader

During Pride month, we’re exploring the importance of our LGBT+ colleagues being seen and heard

Esther, a partner in Deloitte Canada, shared her story of coming out at work and how it changed her career.

When I think about visibility, to me it all comes back to representation. If people don’t see LGBT+ senior leaders around them, they’ll be hesitant to be open themselves because of the historical stigma that people have faced being out. And you can’t be what you can’t see.

The LGBT+ community is truly diverse and it’s an identity that intersects with every other identity and includes people from all walks of life; races, religion, physical ability, gender and more. And to attract and nurture this diversity, people need to be able to live and work freely and peacefully as their true, authentic selves, if you’re hiding who you are, it’s hard to be authentic.

My own journey

I decided to come out in the early 2000s when I was working for a major technology service provider. Reflecting on my own journey to be out and visible as LGBT+, I realise I had to confront a number of misconceptions as well as my own internalised homophobia. As strange as it may sound to talk about homophobia as a Lesbian, there are many in the LGBT+ community who absorb the negative messages we hear and end up not feeling comfortable enough in our own skin to let those around us know who we really are.

I also had to challenge the idea of coming out as being a strictly private matter; that it’s nobody else’s business and has no bearing on an LGBT+ person’s career. While it is of course a very personal choice, there are some important leadership and career implications to staying in the closet as part of an invisible minority.

A turning point for me as a senior manager aiming for promotion was understanding just how important authenticity is to being a leader. I had an “aha” moment realising how many times I chose to lie about my own situation. Or to deny that I was in a relationship because I wasn’t sure that the person I was interacting with would react positively.

I was encouraged to share my perspective and come out to my leaders and peers and this was a true watershed moment that has helped shape the leader I am now.

Today, things have changed dramatically, and we can sometimes take for granted that everyone recognises the value of inclusion for our people, clients and society. However, we still have work to do. It’s only when we have representation across all aspects of diversity, including the LGBT+ community, at all levels of seniority, that we can put our pens down and just be ourselves. And as we get closer to this goal and Deloitte Canada becomes synonymous with diversity, we’ll both attract the brightest and best talent and win work as our clients want to see themselves reflected in the people they work with.

I passionately believe that people can do amazing things and that truly diverse teams can change the world. It’s for this reason that I choose to be seen and heard as a highly skilled professional and leader in my practice who is also a member of the LGBT+ community. As a role model for LGBT+ inclusion, I feel as though I’m doing my part in creating an environment that fosters inclusivity and representation for future leaders.

Esther Dryburgh (she/her), Deloitte Canada

Be your whole self. Be seen. Be heard. Be proud.