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One person at a time - myGwork’s Louise Sinnerton sits down with Geffrye Parsons from Macquarie Group

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2019-01-22

Change is happening at an incredible pace all around the world, and often in conflicting directions.

What’s evident and challenging is that just one person, be that someone in the workplace or someone in a senior political position, can change how society works.

This is a theme that came up time and again when I spoke to Geffrye Parsons from global financial services firm, Macquarie Group, about his involvement with LGBT+ initiatives.

Geffrye (known as Geff) joined Macquarie as a Managing Director almost six years ago. Six months in, he picked up the leadership baton of the Pride network.

One of his first action items was starting a steering committee and rolling out a plethora of awareness initiatives to really boost the network’s focus, drive and publicity.

“When I first joined, there was nobody junior in the network,” observes Geff, “which worried me. I thought, ‘were young LGBT+ colleagues not bringing their whole selves to work?’

"As it was already clear to me that Macquarie is a highly LGBT-friendly organisation, I was keen to ensure that the network became better known, both within the organisation and externally.”

Geff, 53, has been working in the industry for almost 25 years, but even now – after co-founding the LGBT+ network at his previous employer, guiding Macquarie to three successive Top 100 Employer places in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and winning the inaugural Business Equality Award at the Pink News Awards in late 2018 – his focus remains firmly on young people as the key to continue to push LGBT+ rights forward.

Without their energy, and their understanding that our greatest enemy is complacency, he worries that the impact of corporate networks like that at Macquarie, which are so instrumental in driving positive change, could be compromised in the future.

“At Macquarie, I am proud that the Pride network, including allies, covers close to a third of all London-based staff," he continues.

"That is a terrific achievement for awareness and broad support of LGBT+ rights.

“But if there is even a single case of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia, or if someone’s not confident being themselves for fear of that, then that’s absolutely not okay and would be detrimental to all of us.

"Fortunately, that would never be tolerated at Macquarie, and as chair of the Pride network I am proud to help promote a fully inclusive environment in which all employees can thrive without fear of mistreatment, bullying or ostracision.”

Geff, who has been with his husband Kevin for more than 16 years now, wasn’t out at work in the early days of his career.

He only did so in his thirties, when he had become sufficiently confident in his experience and relative seniority not to be concerned about any potential negative effects on his career.

He therefore fully understands why some young professionals still worry about the impact of coming out at work.

He cites the dreadful statistic – that close to two-thirds of graduates go back in the closet when they start work, and the need to change that.

This is a key imperative in the initiatives he pioneers through Macquarie’s Pride network – to make sure the world is not only aware of, but embraces, the LGBT+ community and its value. 

Although he is of course uncomfortable with workplaces that discourage LGBT+ staff from coming out, and so contributing in full to corporate life, ultimately Geff encourages people to do what feels right for them.

“I’m not saying it’s always going to be a picnic, not at all,” he says. “It’s heartbreaking as a role model to see people feel they need to go back into the closet, but each person has their own path.

"You can do it all in your own time – different people will go through different things: one might be worried about the reaction of their colleagues or boss, another might not be happy in their own skin yet for personal reasons.

"You don’t always have to do everything in a hurry or feel like you have to wave a placard for change. Of course, that’s not for everyone.

"But I hope that every single LGBT+ person in the workplace will ultimately feel comfortable to be open and bring their whole, valuable self to work.”

While Geff has been co-chair of Macquarie’s Pride network in EMEA, an extensive programme of events has been rolled out for staff , including panel discussions on key topics including LGBT+ intersections with faith, mental wellbeing, bullying and hate crime, commemorative events (such as for Pride Month and IDAHOBIT Day), and themed key speaker and networking events.

In addition, the network has facilitated the introduction of sexual orientation and gender identity language in key human resources policies, education about trans and developed an approach to transitioning in the workplace.

It has also launched a reverse mentoring programme (as an offshoot of the allies programme) for staff across the EMEA region, boasting many of Macquarie’s regional senior leaders as allies and targeted mentees.  

Externally, the network has worked with and contributed to many LGBT+ charities and community organisations (for example, co-sponsoring the creation of the London Bisexual Network and, in 2018, the first ever bi float in the Pride in London parade).

As a key strategy, it has also engaged with LGBT+ societies and students at universities and schools, to help the next generation see the positive opportunities of a career in finance.

Geff’s passion and determination has seen Geff ranked 23rd in the FT’s list of top LGBT+ executives and nominated for Pink News’ Corporate Role Model Award in 2018.

Geff’s focus hasn’t changed in the six years he’s been at Macquarie – it’s still about reaching as many people as possible so that the network can continue to grow and create a safe and supportive environment for all.

He adds: “Networks like those at Macquarie were set up to support the individual, and if, in that capacity, I can help anyone on their path, I feel not only obliged but actually honoured to do so.”

Macquarie is a corporate partner of the myGwork business community.

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