Before coming to Shell, I didn’t realise how much energy I spent hiding who I was from co-workers. Working long days on complex problems is exhausting enough; it`s doubly exhausting when you can’t be yourself.
I’m a former Navy naval architect - a ship designer - and in the US Navy there was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to sexuality. You didn’t tell anyone you were gay, and you didn’t act in a way that could give away the fact that you were gay.
Following college, I was granted a scholarship to work for the Navy. To this day I believe it was an incredible career opportunity which gave me insight about my industry I wouldn’t otherwise have had.
I got used to referring to my partner as my “friend” to my work colleagues, and announcing that my “friend” would be the one coming to work events with me. My colleagues and bosses knew very little about my familial and personal life and this partially contributed to my team believing I had a terrible work-life balance.
I then spent a year running a small shipyard, and every month the company would focus on a different aspect of diversity. During LGBT Awareness month, my secretary - the person who worked the closest with me - would pull down the posters so that I wouldn’t be offended by them. That’s how closeted I was.
A couple of years later, having grown into the habit of never bringing my whole self to work, my partner, who’s employed by Shell, informed me of a job opening at the company that would give me an opportunity to use my technical skills while also learning about a new industry.
I sat down at my first face-to-face meeting with the Vice President of the department and when he asked how I’d heard about the job, I took a breath and explained it was through my partner, and that she – she – worked in Central HR Policy. When my response didn’t cause him to miss a beat, I knew I’d finally found a work environment I could be my true self in. No more hiding.
Since working at Shell, I’ve realised just how much emotional energy is wasted by members of the LGBT+ community who feel they cannot be out at work. Statistically employees are 20-30% less efficient if they’re not out at work, making it extremely important for companies to prioritise an inclusive environment if they want to achieve maximum productivity.
Shell does really well in this area, but I know for a fact there are still employees that are in the closet, and although there’s a lot of LGBT+ support shown from middle management, I think there’s a greater impact felt when the senior leadership of a company are the biggest advocates for inclusivity.
This really hit home for me when, at an LGBT+ conference we had in Amsterdam, the Chairman of our board showed up and was really engaged. This sent a strong message to the LGBT+ staff who were there as company delegates - to see someone from top management becoming more informed on LGBT+ topics.
I believe my duty as a leader is to create an environment where people feel confident being who they are. This belief has motivated me, within my own scope of leadership, to act as a role model to other employees who may still feel hesitant about coming out. I often take the opportunity to be more vocal than I’m perhaps comfortable with, because someone might need to hear that message today – that it’s okay to be yourself and that we will support you.
My hope is that my actions will encourage other leaders to do the same.