Kristian Wedolowski from Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML) talks to myGwork about the power of bringing your whole to work and how important allies are in fostering an inclusive workplace.
Kristian is based in London, working as an Operational Excellence Executive for Global Banking and Markets Operations and is an advocate of LGBT+ rights.
Kristian was born and raised in Uruguay to a traditional Catholic household. He had a loving family but remembers clearly that LGBT+ wasn’t something that was ever talked about when he was growing up and when going through high school he never met anybody that was openly gay.
He says of his adolescence: “It was all quite confusing. There was an underlying feeling that the life I was leading wasn’t quite right, but one that I felt I had to be living and so decided at that time not to come out.”
After school and university, Kristian moved from Uruguay to work as a consultant at the bank in the United States. At this time, he was still not open about his sexuality for fear it may limit his career prospects.
“I always felt like a bit of an outsider, I could see out at work colleagues in the bank but coming out seemed like such a momentous step.
"I was terrified of being approached to have a conversation in the elevator about my personal life and would always try and plan a conversation ahead so I could avoid ever talking about myself.”
As time went on and Kristian progressed in his career he recognised attitudes around diversity were changing.
The bank had developed an LGBT+ network and ally programme, which meant he could see a number of colleagues that were supportive of the LGBT+ community, and it was this that gave him the confidence to come out at work.
“Today, I can’t believe it took me so long to take the step, the bank has such a strong, supportive LGBT+ network and ally programme and this played a big part in giving me the confidence to relax and enabled me to start the process of being myself, which I had been hiding for so many years.”
After coming out at work Kristian felt comfortable talking about his personal life and his partner. He joined the LGBT+ network and then the ally programme.
He quickly realised just how supportive the bank and colleagues were, he started using the ally portal, which has lots of great information, including details of events, relevant news and also shows who all the allies in the office are.
Kristian began to be approached by colleagues that were experiencing the same dilemma and challenges as he had in his early days at the bank.
It was this that made him realise he could use his personal challenging experience for good. Now he’s a LGBT+ role model both inside and outside of work around the world.
“When I talk to young people, or go to National Student Pride for example, and young people say that they are wondering whether to go back in the closet when they start work, I take the opportunity to share my journey and encourage people not to make the mistakes I made when I first started in my career by not being out.”
Reflecting on his early career, Kristian feels he has learnt a lot about why it is important to bring your whole self to work.
“When you aren’t out at work, you aren’t yourself. Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. If I’m worried about disclosing my sexuality with the language I use, I’m preoccupied and can’t multitask and can’t focus on truly connecting with my team and colleagues.
"Ultimately productivity significantly declines, you can end up trying to avoid interactions and isolating yourself. For me, the success of any professional relies on their network and I think good communication is key to career growth.
"You can learn as much as you want and constantly be understanding new technologies, but if you can’t connect on a personal level, then that can be a significant stumbling block.”
Equally, coming out at work and being an active member of the LGBT+ community at BofAML has given Kristian a good perspective on the power of fostering and nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce: “I think the bank has come a long way in using inclusive language across all its communications, from talent acquisition and retention, to internal and external communications and beyond, it’s reviewed all processes and policies and made sure the language is inclusive and works for all colleagues.
"As well as this, we are supporters of organisations championing change in the city and were very pleased to come in at #50 on the 2018 Stonewall index.”
There’s a prominent ally program at the bank and ‘courageous conversations’ are often hosted. These are panel discussions with no set agenda, where the audience can ask questions without being afraid of not knowing the right language to use; Kristian describes them as a safe and important place for learning.
“I’m part of the LGBT+ exec leadership council, where 65 out leaders around the world speak at least once a month, discussing how best to support all colleagues across the bank.”
Alongside this Kristian mentors several employees from the Latino and LGBT+ community and was proud to see that the bank had an impressive supportive presence across Europe for Pride this year: in London, Chester, Dublin, Zurich, Frankfurt and Paris, and a constantly growing community of almost 28,000 allies and out at work employees.
He said: “As we hear feedback from our allies and the LGBT+ community it shows you just how far we have come.
"The journey for me has been amazing, and for the bank we still have a way to go, but we have made real progress.”
Bank of America Merrill Lynch is a corporate partner of myGwork, the LGBT+ Business community.