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Steven Williams: “I believe we have a responsibility to the next generation, to build the best society that we can by providing role models and letting them know it is okay to be themselves.” (Interview)

Seventh interview of the mygwork series #IamOutatWork, Steven Williams, MMC


Can you please introduce yourself and your role with MMC?
 
My name is Steven Williams and I work as a technical analyst for Mercer - one of the MMC companies. My core role at Mercer is to support the technology we use for flexible benefits administration; however it is some of the additional roles that I’ve picked up that I find truly satisfying.  I’m one of our diversity champions for example and lead the PRIDE BRG committee for policy and guidelines.  
 
Have you always been out at work? How important is to be out at work?
 
I’ve not always been out at work.  Whilst it usually come out naturally in conversation, I don’t tend to arrive somewhere new, skip into the middle of the room and shout “I’m gay”.  So I’m always “in the closet” before I get to know new people; that is the joy of coming out – you get the opportunity to do it every single day with every single person that you meet.
 
Please, tell us about your coming(s) out. Have you ever had a specially good/bad experience because of your sexual orientation at home, university or at work? Which one(s)? 
 
I’ve had many “coming out” experiences, some easy and some less so.  But it has got easier every time – not just because I’m getting good at it – but also because our society has changed and is much more accepting now than it was in the 80’s.  I came out in my current company about 15 years ago, only to my manager over a beer, but he didn’t seem to understand the concepts of confidence or discretion; so the next day in the office – I didn’t have a secret to hide any more.  It wasn’t a great experience like I’d expect now – our company culture is great – but back then it was still developing.  
 
That said, even though it was a difficult experience and I did have to put up with a “bit of banter” (the term we used to use for direct discrimination) at least I could now be myself.  I didn’t have to be guarded with who or what I talked about – I could be myself.  And once the gossip had died and the giggling had stopped – I was free to get on with my work and to engage with my colleagues without the exhausting task of lying all of the time.
 
How does your organisation support and empower its LGBT+ employees?
 
MMC is great.  There are so many ways that employees are supported and empowered, through our mentoring programs, resource groups, policies (which I particularly like to highlight as I’ve worked on some) and culture.  Our leadership show great support through their words, actions and attendance of LGBT+ events.  
 
Not only do we push the diversity message strongly internally within our organisation, but we carry this through in our work and external messages – our HR advice and products.  Because of this consistency between our internal policy and our work with clients, we can truly say we work with integrity; it is more than just lip service.
 
One of my favourite ways that support is shown is with our new MMC PRIDE badges – these are awarded to people right across the business for supporting diversity and come with a certificate of thanks from the HR leader.  We celebrate our allies!
 
Do you feel coming out can encourage other to come out? Has this happened to you and your colleagues? How your LGBT+ employee network can help foster LGBT+ inclusion in your workplace?
 
Coming out can definitely pave the way for others.  When I was new to business I only knew one other gay person in the organisation – and he was quite senior.  The fact that he was steadfast hiding in the closet really made me think; if somebody with that much power is fearful enough to hide – well I’m not popping my head up!  Thank god times have changed.  
 
I will never let want to be that person; hiding myself away – I believe we have a responsibility to the next generation, to build the best society that we can by providing role models and letting them know it is okay to be themselves.

In your opinion, how can an organisation and its clients profit from a diverse workforce?
 
A diverse workforce is beneficial as it will have much broader knowledge which will develop more diverse and well-rounded ideas – and therefore better service clients.  Remember, if you are serving the public, that is a really diverse group right there!
 
It simply doesn’t make sense to limit your talent pool either.  You wouldn’t say, “I’m not hiring anyone with blue eyes”, because it isn’t relevant.  Well, I don’t think sexual preference and expression are particularly relevant to many job roles either.  If the best person has blue eyes, hire them.  If the best person is LGBT+ hire them too.  You want the best people!
 
This just simply doesn’t feel like a question that should be asked anymore.  There are so many studies, real-world results, facts, figures and balance sheets out there that clearly demonstrate this to be true (and significant).  It really feel like society needs to move on from this question to – how can we be more inclusive of diversity?!

What advice would you give the future generations of LGBT+ people looking to get started in the industry?
 
I’d give the same advice that I’d give to people anywhere.  Decide what you want to do and who you want to be, look at where you are now, plan a course from one to the other – then just do it!  
 
Don’t pander to the negative people or the bigots – you’ll meet them everywhere – but you don’t have to give them your attention.  If what you’re offering isn’t appreciated – offer it to somebody else that can see your value!  And if you are not being accepted for who you are – find new people that do accept you.

More and more organisations want their employees to bring their whole self to work. Would you consider working for an organisation that does not?
 
No.  I’d rather be unemployed than working for a company that doesn’t respect its employees.

Do you check Diversity and Inclusion policies of an organisation and same-sex partner benefits before considering working for an organisation? Why?
 
Now that is a hypothetical for me.  I’ve been working for MMC for around 2 decades – so last time I was job hunting – there was no such thing as a D&I policy…  
 
Maybe wrongly, but I expect every company to offer the same benefits to same and differing sex couples, I’d expect any exceptions to face legal action.  But where I would be really interested is around transgender benefits / rights – although there is also legal protection, it is commonly ignored.  It is highly unlikely that I would accept a job for a company that doesn’t have specific transgender policies as these really highlight that a company is truly committed to inclusion.
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