community

Michael Illert from SR Group speaks to myGwork on how to help others in the LGBTQ community

In partnership with myGwork

2020-01-29

“You can be yourself, drive your career and have a family if you want to. It is doable and it is becoming easier to figure out which companies are supportive of that” says Michael Illert from the SR Group.

Michael Illert came out when he was 18 and has always been out at work and has been very involved in the LGBT community and Pride since these teenage years.

As a senior leader he says it has taken him some time to believe that being gay and being a leader are connected.

“I went to a Stonewall leadership seminar in the UK a few years ago, and although I was sceptical at the beginning, (despite there being a lot of senior people there) my scepticism was addressed almost as soon as I sat down.

"In the keynote speech, Ruth Hunt - the CEO of Stonewall at the time - addressed how being a leader and being part of the LGBT community puts you in a position of responsibility.

“One of her key points was that as successful professionals who are part of a diverse group, we have quite a big responsibility to the rest of the community, in enabling others to see that both success and leadership are possible.

"For people that might not be aware of that - seeing people who have achieved it can open their horizons and transform what they believe is possible.

"It was a huge takeaway for me and I actually completely changed my approach after hearing her speak.”

After attending the seminar, Michael decided to be more conscious about how he could help others in his community. “I realised I could be more overt about who I was.

"Some people might unconsciously rather than consciously decide to come out (or not) and to understand that I could have an impact on that and make it easier for people was a big realisation.”

Michael tells me that perhaps new joiners at the SR Group could be joining the organisation from a company where it wasn’t okay to be out, and this change in employer could be a point where they decide to stop hiding.

“You can achieve a lot more with than you perhaps first realise. And it’s not all about helping your own employees to come out.

"When I’m in client meetings I come out subtly, and that has proven to be really powerful; lots of clients have similar experiences and an interest in Diversity and Inclusion and can spark really powerful conversations."

How the employee market is significantly changing to be more transparent than it used to be means employees can be more picky. 

Michael is one of the senior partners at the SR Group and leads their European operations.

He’s ambition about affecting change in wider society at the same time as growing the European business.

Being a father, Michael believes that the younger generation is our future.

“The more open minded and inclusive they are in their thinking, the better society will undoubtedly be.

"Students coming out of school or University ask a lot of questions about how we can serve the community, and there is a lot of opportunity for us as a business as they are so inquisitive, and rightly so discerning about where they work.”

All new starters coming in to the company meet Michael one-to-one.

“I talk about our social purpose, career development, Diversity and Inclusion, and I will always come out in these meetings.

"This has turned out to be extremely powerful, and whether our new joiners are part of a specific community or not, they are all interested in learning about my background.

"They know from talking to me that everyone is welcome and everybody can be themselves.”

Often Michael mentions in these meetings that he is one of two Dads, and if somebody at my level is open about this it just goes to show things like our flexible working scheme really support family life.

“At the company we agree the number of hours you work but not when and where. We have lots of employees that work from home, or work part-time, and over the years we have hired a lot of women that might have come from our competition but struggled with going back to work after taking maternity.”

Many of the company’s best performers are their part-time employees.

The reality of being a parent is that you need to take some time off.

“When we adopted our sons who are brothers I took two months off, and my husband took nearly a year off. When you adopt children, it requires a lot of energy to help them settle.

"Going from having no kids to a five year old and a two and a half year old in the house is a big change.”

When Michael shares who he is at work he is also demonstrating that if you want to, you can combine a senior level career with kids.

“A lot of senior leaders in the straight world do it, and that isn’t unusual, unfortunately they are very stereotypical role models.

"In the Netherlands I see as many fathers as mothers picking kids up from work and I often leave work early and start early so I’m one of those fathers too.”

And Michael wants his work to impact that next generation - whether it is his new starters, his sons, or his clients.

He says: “I have suggested to my clients that they ask for no University information, date of birth, pictures etc on resumes and interviews.

"All of these small things that you can do and we do incorporate into our daily operations. You know even a name alone might lead to unconscious bias and we want to avoid any type of discrimination whatsoever.

"It’s so interesting to have these conversations and challenge clients like this, because ultimately it is a very easy thing to cause a bit of change, and will affect graduates and my sons’ generation coming into the workplace”.

The SR Group is a partner organisation of myGwork Business Community.

Job opportunities with the SR Group:

Senior Consultant Marketing

Graduate Recruitment Manager