Out Leadership – Breaking down the barriers

Out Leadership – Breaking down the barriers
May 23, 2016 Katrina Waldron

Image L-R: Tony Cripps (CEO, HSBC Australia), Kieran Moore (CEO, Ogilvy PR Australia), Todd Sears (founder, Out Leadership), Paul Zahra (Global Retail Advisor).

“Change isn’t something other people do, change is something we all make” – Senator Penny Wong

Last week, a group of us from Ogilvy PR were privileged to attend the inaugural Australian Summit for Out Leadership – against the stunning backdrop of Sydney Harbour.

Out Leadership was founded three years ago in the US, by Todd Sears, a former banker who felt passionately that inclusion for members of the LGBTI community can only be brought about by leadership among business, government and the community organisations.

The Australian Summit unified some of the most senior business leaders in a powerful dialogue about LGBTI equality and inclusion in the workforce.

Amongst the keynote speakers was HSBC CEO, Tony Cripps, Senator Penny Wong, Paul Zahra former David Jones CEO, The Hon Michael Kirby and Kieran Moore, CEO, Ogilvy PR Australia. The summit was a melting pot of inspired business and community leaders who shared their deepest insights and shed new light on an issue that spans generations.

Penny Wong launched the night of conversations, sharing her story with refreshing candour.  She believes that not only acceptance of LGBTI makes ethical sense, it also has a clear business advantage.

Challenges of being out and proud in the workforce is the reality of Paul Zahra’s life. But, as the former CEO of David Jones, he affirms that authentic leadership and bringing your whole self to work is a good thing:  “People are looking for this level of authenticity. For every customer I lost for David Jones by being a gay leader, I think I gained ten.

For our CEO Kieran Moore, a diverse workforce not only makes sense, but it is intrinsically the right thing to do. If we can’t provide a work environment that is accepting of LGBTI, people are leaving a huge part of themselves at home. She explains:  “I want people to bring themselves, 100 per cent to work.

Equality is indeed marketable. If you are to be an inclusive company, attracting and retaining people is far easier if you provide a space that people can be the complete and best versions of themselves.

The discussion began to deepen as not only business, but religion too was added to the dialogue. Tieran Brady, the political director for Yes Equality was a driving force for marriage equality in the Irish Referendum. He led the discussions between Rod Bower, Anthony Venn-Brown, Peta Granger and Zalman Kastel.  Each from a unique background, some promoting tolerance among religions, and all unified by the drive for LGBTI inclusion in the workforce.

Rod Bower, the Anglican Archdeacon of the Central Coast, said he “never really knew what the problem was.” He shared the story of the message he displayed on the parish sign: “Dear Christians, some people are gay, get over it. Love, God.”   Anthony Venn-Brown added that there is a perception in Australian that everyone who is Christian is anti-gay. He, however, refutes this: “There are people who are anti-gay but, in my experience, they just have very loud voices. I rarely work with someone who is completely anti-gay.

Anthony added: “Engaging people with dialogue can break down barriers and does break down barriers.

It is this dialogue that is essential to pushing forward diversity and equality in the workforce. The more people share their voice, ideas and aspirations for LGBTI equality, the better the chance of broader acceptance. That is not to say we are to be aggressive in this approach. Rod Bower shared with the audience that “arguments don’t convince people. What convinces people is personal story. You need to see how someone weeps and bleeds and all of a sudden things change. It’s not an argument, it’s a story.

Out Leadership launched its first initiative, Out on the Street, in 2011, with six founding members. As of 2015, it now counts 68 member companies and operate five global initiatives focused on engaging and empowering Out Leaders around the world.

Its purpose is to deeply engage with C-suite and other senior business executives who are committed to the business case for LGBTI inclusion.