Pride should be celebrated all year, not just for one month,” says Hay’s Director of Client Operations, Lisa Thomas, when she sits down to chat to Louise Sinnerton from myGwork.
Lisa Thomas is a successful, straight talking and very open person. As we start chatting it becomes clear that although she never naturally sought the spotlight, she is happy to put herself forward and be a role model if that will help other women, whether they’re LGBTQI or not.
“I might be 6-foot-tall and quite confident on the outside, but I’m actually quite an introvert. I have a reason to put myself out there; for others, but I wouldn’t do it just for me.”
Lisa Thomas of Hays and myGwork
She came into recruitment when she was 21 and talks about how she’s always been open. “I have always lived my life as a gay woman, since I was 17. Over the years I have been asked funny things, like people might name a gay friend that lives within a 20-mile radius, and ask, “Oh, do you know them?” I just smile. “Of course not, not all gay people know each other!”
Apart from one or two comments like that Lisa describes herself as “one of the lucky ones” and tells me about when she came out at 17. “When I told my Mum she said, “Thank God for that, I thought something was really wrong!” Lisa is happily married and tells me she’s never tried to hide her “normal.”
Lisa with her wife at Race For Life
Despite this, she recognises that not everyone has the same story or background and comments that she has friends whose families and friends have not been understanding, so quickly or at all. This has given Lisa an insight into how people can be made to feel when they are thought of as different and treated differently. Lisa is very aware that not everyone in the workplace might feel safe and might not all be able to be their true selves.
So, often, when she meets new colleagues and team members, she tries to subtly mention her partner, Sarah. “I want to save people the embarrassment of assuming I have a husband. I’m not offended if they ask or think that, but I try to be open from the off to reduce any chance of awkwardness. I’ve never experienced any negative behaviour to my face and that’s reinforced when we all ‘usualise’ and talk about it; people realise that it’s not so different.”
That’s why it’s so important to her that Hays demonstrates its support in every way possible, she spearheaded the move to create a rainbow H (in Hays) for the recently launched Hays Pride Network in the UK.
“The Hays ‘H’s are so recognisable throughout all of our offices and branding and my mission is to be able to use these in more offices going forward. Visible support from senior leaders was so important when they set up their Hays Pride Network, and no doubt, that will help to keep the momentum from Pride going.
Lisa wants to help Hays to raise the bar when it comes to diversity, inclusion and engaging with the LGBTQI community. Her career in recruitment started at 21 and she’s worked with lots of openly gay leaders during that time, although she can’t say the same for the visibility of LGBTQI women.
“I can’t think of an openly gay woman that I had as a role model. When I sit and think about it… how sad is that? It’s pretty shocking. What I would say is that this hasn’t held me back and, in that respect, I’ve pioneered my own path as a professional gay woman.”
However, female empowerment and strong leadership is something she’s surrounded by. “My manager, the MD (Elisabetta Bayliss) is incredible. She is a fantastic leader. She has been with Hays for 30 years and is a board member – she’s extraordinary. She has a very positive impact on us all and I take a lot from her approach.
“She’s not afraid to challenge people or more importantly ask questions if she doesn’t understand something and I find that inspiring. Being female has never held her back – its grit, hard work, a sense of humour and expertise that have got her where she is.” Lisa also mentions Alex Gerrard, Head of HR and Yvonne Smyth, Head of Diversity & Inclusion and says that having these successful female role models around her, all renowned in their field of expertise, is extremely encouraging.
With that in mind, she wants more successful, gay female leaders to emerge. “It’s important to give people someone to see who is like them in some way, so they know that they can reach the same goals.”
Lisa has a huge amount of drive, energy, and passion and ultimately, is happy to put herself out there to make sure there is visibility of gay female leaders. “My driver is to give colleagues and those outside of Hays positive gay role models – one avenue to do this is via our Pride Network. I’m not hierarchical at all, treat as you wish to be treated.
“I hope that those who need that positive role model can see me and say ‘Wow, look at her, nothing has held her back.’”