The below transcript is from a May 2012 interview with Caroline Taylor, VP of Marketing, Communications & Citizenship, IBM UK & Ireland. Interviewees for the series Out on Top: Executive Pride were asked for their personal opinions and not those reflective of their current or past employer. The views expressed are not necessarily those of any employer or this website.
Quick Question Links:
Personal History – Out at Work – Work Relationships – Productivity Impact – Work Not Place to Be Out – Inclusion Dividend – Executive Pride – Advice to Non-LGBT Inclusive Companies
Dagoba Group: Please provide our readers a brief overview of your work history and your current role.
In my current role, I am Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Citizenship for IBM UK & Ireland. I have been in marketing and sales for my whole career. I have been in full-time employment for approximately 20 years. I started in fine wine retail and then moved into the high-tech space. I joined IBM due to an acquisition in 1997. I have been in various marketing positions for IBM from our software to our consulting businesses at a European level.
One of the great things about IBM is that it has a full portfolio of businesses, so one can change careers without ever having to leave the company.
Dagoba Group: At what point in your IBM career did people know you were heterosexual? How did they know?
The obvious answer is it is most people’s assumption even today. It seems to be people’s default. I tend to use examples in my personal life quite often so people learn very early on I am married and have children. It is not something heterosexuals would spend any energy on thinking about so it probably makes it that much harder for people to understand the plight of a closeted gay individual.
Dagoba Group: If you were not able to be public about being heterosexual (wearing wedding ring, photos of spouse on desk, openly talking about home life or weekends) how would that affect the conversations or relationship with colleagues and supervisors?
It would have enormous impact because you wouldn’t be able to be you. You would need to spend too much of your time thinking what to say or not to say. Unless you are a sublime actor, being someone you are not is a very exhausting thing. It takes energy away from what you really intend to do in any conversation.
Dagoba Group: Because you have been able to share your family life with colleagues, supervisors and clients how do you think this has impacted your collegial relationships?
If I was not able to be myself, it would really have a negative impact. It could make one appear cagey and secretive which would not engender trust in any relationship.
Sharing stuff about ourselves is the basis of any relationship really. Sharing significant pieces of ourselves creates a deep relationship. A lack of trust will kill any relationship. I use examples about my life to help me communicate my point. If I was not able to do this, it would make my job very difficult.
Storytelling is more memorable than a bunch of facts. This really helps you connect with clients in a memorable positive way.
Dagoba Group: Have you known colleagues to come out as being gay? Did you notice a strengthening or weakening of their collegial relationships? Did this change in relationships impact their productivity?
I don’t believe I have worked with somebody who has come out while I have known them. All of the colleagues I have worked with have been out when we first met. I am aware of people who were not out publically.
I think that there is a perpetually anxiety of being caught out. Being able to take this weight off of your shoulders must make a real positive impact. We are all different. We don’t need everyone to be exactly alike. There is a huge value in difference which allows us to build an extraordinary team.
Dagoba Group: Do you think gay employees believe they need to pretend to be straight at work to protect or promote their career? Why?
At IBM, it should not be an issue. We have a very vibrant LGBT network within the organization. We also do a lot of work to constantly reinforce an inclusive atmosphere. We were enormously proud to be awarded Stonewall recognition for our LGBT work. In business in general, I am sure there are a lot who believe they need to pretend to be straight because of their particular business culture.
Dagoba Group: What does it mean for your company for employees to be comfortable with their sexual orientation at work?
At the end of the day, it is fundamental to our success. We celebrated our 100 year anniversary last year. It was in 1953 when IBM published Policy Letter Number 4. This letter was a reminder from our current CEO of the time that it was our policy to hire people for their talent and skills without regard to color, race or creed. This was a very forward statement back then since it was really pre-civil rights.
No company will be successful in the long term if they do not create an environment where everyone feels welcomed. The more someone is allowed to be themselves, the better they will be able to do their job.
There is a competition for great talent. If we have a work environment where people are not comfortable about their sexual orientation, we will limit our ability to recruit the true best talent. We will not only fail to hire LGBT candidates, but also straight candidates who value an inclusive workplace. I count myself in the latter group.
Dagoba Group: Given it is common for straight employees to be out, how do you respond when somebody says, “Work is not the place to be out.”?
People often think sexual orientation is about sex. It is not about that at all. Being out at work does not mean they are talking about their sex life. It is simply being themselves and not pretending to be otherwise. Is it inappropriate for someone to be open about whether they are married, single or have a family? It is just about creating a level playing field for everyone, straight or gay.
Dagoba Group: In your opinion, does a company that expands its inclusive policy to include sexual orientation have a positive, negative or neutral effect on their client base?
It is positive all the way. For most organizations, the ability to attract, retain and motivate the best talent is significant. It has a great upside if you get it right and rather big downside if you get it wrong. If you can’t effectively recruit talent, you will spend a lot of money with a recruitment agency.
We are a B2B organization with the majority emphasis on services which makes us a people business. We have to reflect our customers. Our customers reflect society. We have a very diverse workforce which helps us bring the best to our clients.
Dagoba Group: How important is it for a company’s inclusive environment to have executives who are comfortable being out or have straight executives vocally supportive of LGBT employees?
I think both are really really valuable. My word, does it help. This is all about role models. If you have gay executives who are out, they make great role models for those just starting their careers. They can see their sexual orientation will not impede their career potential.
The idea of a straight ally is absolutely of paramount importance because it stops it from being a special interest. I sit on a gender diversity council which also includes both men and women. It has to be all of us.
Dagoba Group: For those companies that do not currently have an inclusive policy that includes sexual orientation, what is your advice?
Do it. Do it now. If you leave it until it is too late, you will go out of business. This isn’t something you can put on the back burner and not think about or your talent will go to your competitors who do have an inclusive culture.