Updated: Oct 9
Last month, I did something that terrified me! I went on stage in front of the top +250 leaders of the company I work for (Vestas) and I talked about myself! Why? Because sometimes being a leader means to be vulnerable in front of others and show our humanity. I spoke to my peers about being a member of the LGBTQ 🌈 community and our responsibility as leaders to make sure that everyone feels safe to be their true selves at work, everyday.
We are on a journey and I'm proud to be part of it. ❤
You can watch my talk here below. ⬇
We tend to have less compassion for people who are different from us.
And yet, when we talk about inclusion, we talk a lot about being our real true selves.
What if being your true self meant to be different?
What if you were uncomfortable being your true self because you didn’t want to lose compassion from others?
Or what if being your true self was illegal in 70 countries and punishable by death in 12 because you were gay?
To be our true selves requires a culture that is highly inclusive and that’s what I hope we can provide here, at Vestas, for all our employees.
Hi everyone, my name is Laurence and I am gay.
Now that I got everyone’s attention by telling you that I’m gay, let’s talk! And let’s start with a personal story about me.
I have always known that I was gay but it took me 23 years to come out…
And when I came out to my mother, I was completely petrified… but I told her and she replied “I am so happy you finally found the courage to be who you are!”
That was 17 years ago and unlike what I had assumed at the time, once someone comes out, it is not over. Oh no, to the contrary, it is just the beginning…
For the last 17 years I have been coming out over and over again to everyone that I meet, including at work.
And unlike my mother, not everyone reacts with such a level of acceptance.
Now I am sure some of you are starting to think “why does this matter in the Vestas context or good for you Laurence, but what does this have to do with work?
Great question! Thank you for asking
We all work in a company that employs 28000 people and it is our responsibility as leaders to make sure everyone can be their whole selves at work, including being queer, gay, trans, non-binary.
And that’s important because we have LGBTQ employees across all countries we operate in and it is our job, as leaders, to make sure that they feel safe at work, regardless of the country they live in and regardless of the country’s legal stand on homosexuality and gender.
But how do we do this?
Well the good news is that we have already started.
But this journey has to continue and we need to do more.
And it continues with me being on stage talking about this and showing our 28000 employees that there is a member of the LGBTQ community part of Vestas’ leadership and that it’s not just ok to be queer at work, it’s welcomed. And THAT is why I am here today.
And how can YOU, in this room, help everyone feel welcome and able to be their true self at work?
First, as leaders it is our responsibility to show our real selves and to be authentic so that our colleagues feel safe to the same. We need to lead by example.
But we can do more.
We can also make an effort to be more aware and inclusive in the words we use and questions we ask.
And let me give you a personal example to explain what I mean.
How often have I been asked by colleagues “what does your husband do?”
People assume that as I present with female characteristics, I am 1. Married and 2. I must have a husband.
I know there is no bad intent, but this question is not inclusive…
Because every time, I have to answer knowing I am about to come out to a colleague who doesn’t expect it and I might make them uncomfortable. And although this is always a possibility, I never hide my identity so I answer:
“I don’t have a husband, I have a wife, her name is Maja…”
And over my 11 years in Vestas, I have had a wide array of reaction to me revealing that I am married to a woman. From a simple pleasant smile to disbelief, to complete dead silence, to a follow up question like “what do you mean you have a wife?”
And honestly, coming out at work repeatedly with the possibility that someone, based on their background, religious views or beliefs system could react badly is always a possibility and it’s uncomfortable, no matter how many times I have done it.
May be even today in this room, my coming out is making some people here feel uncomfortable…
And while some of you might be feeling uncomfortable, some of you might think that being gay has no impact on my career, but it does.
There are multiple countries where Vestas does business where I could never move with my family because my marriage would not be recognized. Singapore, China, India, the Philippines, just to name a few. There are also multiple countries where being gay is not illegal but kept behind close doors making it hard for me and my family to live a normal life.
I know that as a company we can’t change LGBTQ legislations in the countries in which we operate, and that’s not what I’m talking about today. What I am talking about is that it is our responsibility as leaders to make Vestas a safe and inclusive place to work. And for that we need to make sure we use inclusive language and ensure everyone feels safe to be their true self at work.
Now, if I have made you feel uncomfortable at any point during my short talk, I have reached part of my goal because I got you to start thinking about this. And remember that while you might have felt uncomfortable for 5 minutes, some of our fellow LGBTQ colleagues feel uncomfortable every single day at work.
I want to end today by leaving you with 2 things I’d like you to take away from what I have said:
1. I have a message for those of you who are holding back, afraid to be your whole true selves at work. I stand with you. I hear you. I see you. I am right here for you.
2. For the rest of you who will embark on this journey with me, here is what you can do when you meet a new colleague or employee. Ask them about their partner rather than their husband or wife. Don’t assume people’s gender, use inclusive language, be open-minded and welcoming. Just that will go a long way!
My name is Laurence and like all of you, I am a human being.