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Geoffrey Quinet: “Erasing ignorance is the first step to openness and acceptance.”

Sixth interview of the mygwork series #IamOutatWork, Geoffrey Quinet

Have you always been out at work? How important is it to be out at work?

Coming out as a gay is not a topic for me as it doesn't say much about myself. I've always been transparent about the person who shares my life and hiding it would make relations very odd. Your colleague or business partner can become a friend in time but both of you are supposed to be professionals above all and behave accordingly. Inappropriate comments on your private life can pop up here and there - anywhere, anytime - but this says pretty much everything about the inability to be a mindful professional of our time!

Please, tell us about your coming out experiences? Have you ever had an especially good/bad experience because of your sexual orientation at home, university or at work? Which one(s)?  

I have as many coming out stories as I had coworkers. Some accept it, some find it funny, some don’t say much, some tend to take their distance thinking you would not notice. Whatever the reaction is, you have to deal with it and it is always a learning experience on my side. It’s good to know your people and surround yourself with high quality professionals that focus on professionalism over private topics. 

I came out to my close friends and relatives at a very early stage. From the moment I had the support of the most important ones, I let others decide either they would feel comfortable with the idea or not. If they were not, the conclusion was simple: Keep out of my life, I only surround myself with positive vibes. I was not going to change anytime soon, but I’ve always been confident people can learn from such experiences and become more open-minded in time. 

With the marriage-for-everyone in France, we have seen some tensions appearing in French society and a lot of homophobic comments. What were your feelings at that time at work? Do you think people were more afraid to come out after that? What is the situation now? 

Same sex marriage was made possible in 2013 thanks to the Hollande government and I am happy France seized this opportunity to remain a country of social progress. However, I also felt very ashamed of my country as tons of people were going on a strike against LGBT+ people. I enjoy debates, but this was often silly and inappropriate. LGBT+ people were called deviant, compared to pedophiles and zoophiles, some were injured while others were rallying and praying to God to not get this law passed. How insane was that!

It definitely did not help LGBT+ people come out and rather nurtured their insecurities. If some read these lines, love is not the issue. Hate is. And those who made up situations to put a shade on LGBT+ are unfortunately full of this hate. LGBT+ should not be ashamed by these opinions but rather feel pity for this inability to love and embrace diversity. No plague happened in France because of same-sex marriage, but the damage is done and we now know how extremist the French can be against LGBT+ people. The silver lining is that more people got used to this new civil right and time will help others to accept things as they are, modern and inclusive. 

A study shows that 3/4 straight people in the UK and US think it is inappropriate to discuss sexual orientation at work. Do you think training on diversity and inclusion could change this? How?

Anything that could raise awareness about LGBT+ matters is helpful to educate people about it. Some people are actually very interested in our stories as we’ve been through experiences that have taught us skills, allowed us to be open to others. Of course, these trainings should not be proselytism. Raising such topics should be done in an appropriate way as it is – to me – about learning how to openly discuss without discomfort. I would probably feel uncomfortable with a topic that isn’t familiar to me if it was never discussed. Erasing ignorance is the first step to openness and acceptance.

Do you think your industry is more or less LGBT+ inclusive than other industries? Why? Do you think inclusiveness depends more on the individual culture of an organization rather than on the culture of an industry? 

The healthcare industry is about health and does not really focus on sexual orientation, unless it becomes a market opportunity. There’s no real stereotype in that sector, but I worked in mass distribution and transport in the past which are a bit different. Whenever you have gender-related clichés, it is instantly harder to come out and ask for inclusiveness, as you have to bear some inappropriate jokes time to time.

Inclusivity needs to be taken up by individuals as well as organizations. Individuals build their own groups, for which they need a vision to share, either smart or silly. And these groups give the organization a broad range of cultures. Sometimes, it fits with the corporate one. Sometimes, it needs some work to enhance one’s ability to view things differently. Both individuals and organizations – through leaders’ endorsement - need to work hand in hand to share a culture that is in line with the reality of our world.

How does your organization support and empower its LGBT+ employees?

My company is one of those that embrace diversity since it offers a broad range of standpoints and backgrounds. Diversity is embedded in our corporate values and our 100,000 employees worldwide can enjoy a safe and inclusive workplace every day.

Do you feel coming out can encourage others to come out? Has this happened to you and your colleagues? How has your LGBT+ employee resource group fostered LGBT+ inclusion in your workplace?

I do and I am always happy when LGBT+ people come to me discreetly to ask how to proceed with their coming out. I am not an expert but this is a very first step to their own freedom, and I am always happy to be a part of this adventure! The US site - where I am located - takes actions in favor of LGBT+ every year thanks to an internal employee resourced group. From internal trainings to raise awareness and understanding of managers on LGBT+ matters, to external actions such as fundraising or volunteering for trusted organizations, we work every day to empower lives no matter what.

It has been proven that being out increases one's productivity, what other advantages do you see in coming out? 

Being out and being able to have open discussions is beneficial for trust, confidence and wellbeing. Hiding would make me feel miserable. I enjoy that freedom of being myself everyday. It does not mean showing off though, as I tend to keep my private life for myself. Being able to share important moments with coworkers you like is part of any corporate life, and feeling supported is a chance.

In your opinion, how can an organization and its clients profit from a diverse workforce?

Diversity of backgrounds and experiences are enriching for an organization as it allows us to think outside of the box. We all are humans and made of the same emotions, but the way we experiment with things may differ significantly based on our viewpoints. The more diverse your group is, the more you can embrace diversity to end up with a unique outcome.

What advice would you give the younger generations of LGBT+ people looking to get started in the industry?

Be yourself, regardless of the industry. Don’t hide it, but don’t make it a topic. People are so much more than a sexual orientation, our diversity and values stand elsewhere. Some may want to bully you because of your sexual orientation. Keep in mind that these people are not part of your life and their opinion should not matter as they obviously will never be. Unsolicited comments, with no rational, from unknown people, are simply valueless. And there are so many folks out there with a better vibe, that are willing to help you, teach you, share their experiences with you, regardless of your sexuality. These are those you need to surround yourself with. They allow you to move on and bounce higher.


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