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It should go without saying, but for any workplace to succeed, employees must feel like they can authentically be themselves. However, there are still LGBTQ+ workers that don’t feel supported by their employer, with a recent study suggesting that 62% of graduates went ‘back into the closet’ when they started their first job. In recent years, corporations, businesses and organisations have started to demonstrate their commitment to LGBTQ+ staff members by advocating for inclusion and diversity. Citi, an investment bank and financial services corporation, is one of the companies proudly flying the rainbow flag and creating an “equitable and inclusive” culture for their employees, allowing them to reach their “fullest potential” in the process.

Here, three Citi employees speak with Conor Davis, Global Head of Investor Sales and Relationship Management, about the biggest barriers to inclusion in the financial services industry, how firms can create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ workers and their reverse mentoring scheme. Jacqui Lloyd, EMEA Apprenticeship Lead and Co-Chair of Citi Pride Network, discusses her experiences as an openly gay woman, while Nikhil Howai, EMEA Credit Financing & Portfolio TS, shares how he’s found a more “LGBTQ+ friendly” home in the UK since moving from Trinidad and Tobago, and Paul Brennan, Head of the UK FX Investor Sales, recalls some of his experiences as an LGBTQ+ employee after working for the company for 15 years.

Inclusivity and inspiration

Conor: Was there one standout experience that shaped how you feel about inclusivity at work?

Jacqui: Before working at Citi, I had the privilege to work with interns, graduates and apprentices who were just starting out in their careers. At the time, there was a piece of research suggesting that 62% of graduates went ‘back into the closet’ when they joined their first organisation. I started my career in the closet and I can attest to how damaging and limiting this can be. I realised I had a personal responsibility and a greater role to play by being more visible. By speaking my truth, referencing my wife, and talking about the benefits of bringing my whole self to work, I hoped to reduce the anxiety our LGBTQ+ talent might be feeling and show them that it’s okay to be LGBTQ+ at work. We saw an immediate spike in members joining our network and a real shift in the willingness to talk about and celebrate different identities and gender expressions.

Nikhil: Several years ago, Paco Ybarra attended a pre-event hosted by Citi’s London Pride Network for the London Pride Parade. At that point, I had just started to involve myself with the London Pride Network. I felt a lot braver about being openly LGBTQ+ in the workplace after that day. Having visible allies at a senior level in the organisation can have an outsized impact on employees who may doubt that their ‘true self’ may not be accepted or valued.

Paul: Probably helping a colleague on their journey to decide whether to come out at work over the summer. Seeing the transformation in her once she had told her global head and her boss… The increased confidence in her truly warmed my heart.

Diversity and reverse mentoring

Conor: The reverse mentoring scheme has proven to be an incredibly powerful exercise. What motivated you to participate?

Nikhil: Firstly, I wanted to encourage greater visibility among senior leaders who were allies given their platform, and to ensure they understood the perspective of an LGBTQ+ employee when (or if) they championed change in the organisation. I also wanted to give senior management the option to ask frank, open questions from an LGBTQ+ employee. The idea was to create a safe space for both mentors and mentees to have discussions that could be transformational to Citi’s decisions on diversity.

Paul: I am lucky enough to work within a team where we are friends and I was just sick and tired of lying to them about where I was going on holidays and with whom. I had (and still have!) a great partner called Shaun. I wanted to be like my friends and be able to introduce my partner to my teammates. A very close colleague said to me that the trading floor resembled a premiership football team and there had to be more LGBTQ+ people, to which I totally agreed! I should add that having you, Conor, and others as allies has definitely given me the confidence to put myself more out there, no pun intended! There is no way I would have done as much as I have done to date without that senior allyship.

Conor: What did you want to achieve as an outcome of the programme?

Jacqui: My aim was to show my mentee that there is more to being an ally than simply calling yourself an ally. To really be an ally, you must take action. My mentee said that the experience equipped him to not only deal with questions, comments and scenarios, but gave him the confidence to initiate this and lead by example. Being a great ally, or being committed to driving inclusion and diversity within Citi, is very much about deeds and actions – not just words.

Paul: I wanted to get rid of the taboo around LGBTQ+ and have our senior allies be confident to be vocal allies. Ally is a verb after all. I also wanted our seniors to feel confident to speak even if they misspeak. We are all on a journey! I also wanted to help bring together the staff within Markets who identify as LGBTQ+ and help increase their sense of belonging at Citi, as well as increase the client collaboration around LGBTQ+ advocacy!

Breaking down barriers

Conor: While progress has been made, we know there is still a lot of work to do. What do you consider to be the biggest barriers to inclusion in the financial services industry?

Jacqui: Perception. I think people have a certain view of the financial services industry. I certainly did before I joined. I thought it was a place for other people, people not like me, but actually, we are incredibly committed to creating a very diverse and inclusive environment. I think the other issue can be fear; fear of saying the wrong thing. I often start every training session I run by discussing the language and acronyms. The lexicon is constantly evolving. I strongly believe that most people have good intentions and want to support their colleagues, but sometimes, they just don’t know how to get the conversation started.

Nikhil: Historically, the industry has had a hyper-masculine culture which can be intimidating and not inclusive for most minority groups – not just LGBTQ+ employees. Thankfully, this is less problematic today than over five years ago. The biggest barriers today are more subtle, which can potentially be harder to solve: barriers like unconscious bias leaving minorities with less available opportunities, or operating cross-border, which means one institution can straddle jurisdictions that are fewer LGBTQ+ friendly. Or, a lack of role models that can reassure and empower minorities.

Paul: For LGBTQ+ people in particular, two key things: a lack of role models and a lack of data. Perfection becomes the enemy of progress.

Conor: What steps can firms take to tackle these barriers and create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ colleagues?

Jacqui: Start talking. Our Reverse Mentoring programme has really created a platform for discussion. By inviting people to talk about this topic and increase their knowledge and awareness, we have quite simply broken down some barriers and enabled people to get comfortable with the topic and understand the role we can all play in supporting one another.

The biggest barriers today are more subtle, which can potentially be harder to solve: barriers like unconscious bias leaving minorities with less available opportunities

Paul: Talk: don’t make any topics taboo, we are all human. Also, I think sometimes senior leaders do not always realise the power they have to create a more inclusive environment. I have had many conversations with staff members in different parts of the Markets division about whether to come out at work or not. When I tell them that their product head is an ally and participated in reverse mentorship, their eyes light up! I would add that senior leaders should not be afraid of being more visible allies. Especially when you are in the closet, you are crying out for any visible symbols that you will be accepted for who you are. And staff members will even take non-verbal signals from their leaders.

Conor: What can colleagues do on a personal level to be allies?

Jacqui: Speak up and challenge when they hear inappropriate comments – homophobic, transphobic or biphobic – whether we are in the room or not. Join us for our events and get to know and understand the issues.

Nikhil: I know it’s a big ask, but to the extent an ally can speak up when they witness inappropriate behaviour is the single biggest thing someone can do. It takes a brave person to put their neck out like this, but it makes such a big impact. Including LGBTQ+ individuals in the conversation and being open about participation in LGBTQ+ events are a few simple things that allies can do on a personal level.

Paul: Be themselves and talk about issues that they are passionate about, as we’ve noted, and: add the ‘Proud Ally’ to their signature, add their pronouns if they are comfortable, and join their local Pride network. One of my favourite phrases of all time is “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has!

Shared Learning

Conor: What has changed at Citi since the programme launched?

Jacqui: The impact has been enormous – we have seen the creation of new Pride networks in other locations across our region as a direct result. We have also seen a significant increase in engagement levels in general. People who have taken part in the programme and seen great value, have invited representatives from Pride to join their management meetings or Town Halls to speak about LGBTQ+ inclusion and share their insights.

Nikhil: The biggest single change is the launching of Pride networks in France and Germany under the sponsorship of the respective CCOs, who themselves participated in our reverse mentoring programme.

Paul: We have had so many rich conversations around being LGBTQ+, and a real change of culture on the trading floor towards LGBTQ+ of increased openness and, for want of a better word… Pride!

Conor: What is your “call to action” for senior leaders in the industry?

We are looking at increased collaboration with clients as we enter 2022, and seeing what we can do for LGBTQ+ friendly companies to help encourage positive change.

Jacqui: To create the space and culture in which people can talk openly about LGBTQ+ equality, and help to create an environment where LGBTQ+ people feel able to be themselves and be open in the workplace. Recognise that as leaders, you can shape the organisation and set the tone. As a global organisation, we operate in locations and countries where it is not safe or legal for people to be themselves. I would like to encourage leaders to think about this and to consider the opportunities they have to positively impact and influence change.

Nikhil: So much has improved for the ‘L’ and the ‘G’ part of the equation, but we need to do so much more to create a safe, inclusive environment for our trans colleagues.

Paul: Be vocal. Be proud. Do something! A wise person once said to me perfection is the enemy of progress. It’s not ‘sexy’ and it won’t make campaign banners, but let’s continue to try and push things forward. Many positive marginal gains can actually become quite monumental! We are looking at increased collaboration with clients as we enter 2022, and seeing what we can do for LGBTQ+ friendly companies to help encourage positive change.

Conor: One of the goals of the Reverse Mentoring Programme was to encourage leaders to challenge assumptions. Do you feel they’re now equipped to drive change?

Jacqui: We have had extremely positive feedback from participants and every person who has been involved has said that this experience has changed their understanding and assumptions, for the better. I feel as if the Revere Mentoring Programme has created a whole new cohort of senior allies, who will help to advance LGBTQ+ equality at Citi.

Paul: I have seen so many amazing examples of Citi leaders being better allies since their participation in reverse mentorship. In fact, we hosted an event recently for our clients looking at LGBTQ+ Rights in EMEA, which is a direct result of active allyship from the two most senior people in my division in FX. It was Citi’s response to the passing of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Hungary, and even better, it was hosted by Lucy Baldwin (Global Head of Markets Research and Equity Advisory) – who arrived at Citi with what I thought was one of the best things you could say about anyone: that she was an amazing LGBTQ+ ally at her previous employer. That is the bar for all our allies now, including yourself Conor!