On the importance of being yourself at work – and a bit about Brexit …

On the importance of being yourself at work – and a bit about Brexit …

australian_flag_3Most airlines are still run by men (Carolyn McCall at easyJet being a notable exception to that rule) and not many businesses are run by a CEO who is also openly out – Tim Cook at Apple is one of those exceptions.  The Venn diagram of openly out, gay CEOs of airlines collides in the shape of Alan Joyce at Quantas,  who is the subject of this great BBC piece which examines both the benefits of diversity to a business and also how important it is to create a workplace in which everyone can be their true and authentic self.

In the article, Alan Joyce cites a conversation he had with a young girl of (Australian) indigenous heritage,  in which she asked him if he thought it would ever be possible for a young woman like her to be the CEO of a business like his.  His reply?

“Well, if a gay Irishman can become the CEO of Qantas then an indigenous lady can.”

During my time working as head of diversity and inclusion for a top Australian (ASX 20) engineering firm,  I was lucky enough to work with an NGO/social enterprise called CareerTrackers.  They specialise in finding paid internships for university students of indigenous heritage from Australia and the Torres Strait islands, as a way of creating career pathways into corporations (instead of following a more ‘usual’ path into roles in the public sector,  where quotas exist as a way of balancing the Australian workforce).  I worked with the founder and CEO of CareerTrackers,  a fantastically inspirational man called Michael Combs,  as well as about a dozen students,  who worked in different parts of the company for 12 weeks at a time in roles ranging from marine engineering to finance and HR. At the time, Quantas were (and I hope/bet they still are) a great supporter of CareerTrackers and took on lots of student interns, as well as providing free or subsidised flights to the team.

I thought of Michael and the CareerTrackers team as soon as I read the interview with Alan Joyce and I really hope that it was once of Michael’s interns who asked that great question of the Quantas CEO!

*  *  *

So, Brexit.  I feel the need to write something about this and add my voice and words to the thousands of op-ed pieces which have been generated over the past week since the referendum’s results were announced. I’m on holiday in Ireland at the moment and this is a huge news story over here; I’m quizzed on it by people as soon as they hear my English accent and the Irish press is covering it in great detail every day.  Ireland was very much pro-Remain ahead of the vote,  with PM Enda Kenny setting out his stall quite clearly last week (it seems a lifetime ago now, doesn’t it?).

I’ve spent most of my life passionately in favour of inclusion in all areas of life, society and the workplace so yes – I was very much a Remain voter and I was and am devastated at the idea that we, the British people, have seemingly opted to not be part of Europe anymore.  Add to this the fact that we seem to have gone from being a gloriously inclusive nation at the London Olympics in 2012 to now being a country where voicing a “send them home”, anti-immigrant narrative is ever more common and acceptable … and I am saddened in more ways than I can count.

There have been so many summaries of the most immediate consequences of Brexit but this one,  posted on Facebook last Friday 24th June by Phil Moss,  is to me the most insightful. His words are reproduced, with my thanks, here:

“This is the single biggest mistake that this country has made in my life. And it has made it with its heart, not its head. The economic repercussions have already started, and things are only going to get worse.

Good luck to everyone as they see their employment rights, human rights, legal protections and economic vitality destroyed as the protection of the EU umbrella is removed. Not to mention the effects of the global markets and the impact of new trade agreements.

To those who chose to use the EU Referendum as the opportunity to “give a kicking to politicians of all sides”, you should get a kicking yourselves, metaphorically. You have used your displeasure at the ‘Westminster elite’ to wreak horrific and long-lasting damage onto our country. And to those who focused solely upon stopping the “bloody immigrants”, immigration from non-EU countries is far higher than from EU countries, and the UK already controls immigration from non-EU countries. So well done. This was a referendum about membership of the EU, but it became everything but. People used it to vote against austerity, to vote against the political system, to vote against the lack of investment in the NHS and housing, but seemingly very few voted on the basis of the pros and cons of EU membership.

Finally, I have some words for David Cameron…

You gambled the entire future of your country on a political whim, in order to placate your party, by inserting the promise of a referendum into your 2015 GE manifesto. And you lost.

Your gamble has spectacularly failed, both through your own failings and those of an apathetic Labour Party, and we as a country will now reap the ‘rewards’ of your naivety through Brexit.

You may lose your job earlier than you hoped, but I don’t care about that. Prime Ministers come and go, but few make such cataclysmic mistakes. You have destroyed the UK’s reputation within Europe and the wider world, threatened our economy in the short, medium and long term, and created uncertainty for years to come.

This a sad day, one of the saddest of my life. We cannot undo the mistake that we have just made, and I fear for our country and its place in the world.”



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