The day I read that Tim Cook was gay my mind blew. Until then, as a gay professional at the start of my career I assumed that being open about my sexuality would gift me with a big ‘glass closet’ I couldn’t smash through. In a world with no LGBTQ role models, Tim Cook stood out as proof that I could be both gay and a successful leader.
That’s why I was very excited to take part as a mentor in the programme run by Career Accelerator in partnership with GoCardless’s Pride employee group – a resource group dedicated to improving the experience of LGBTQ+ employees.
Before starting the mentoring programme, Career Accelerator set up a short training session to help us be the best mentors we could be. Then, I was ready to meet my mentee.
Of all the advice I got from Career Accelerator, starting by listening was the most valuable. I learned loads in the first five minutes. The first and most reassuring thing was how comfortable my mentee was in his own skin. He was very clear on who he was and unwilling to compromise on it. He joined the mentoring scheme to find out which work environment would allow him to thrive as his full self.
My mind was blown for the second time. In barely ten years, the workplace and the expectations of a professional starting out has changed entirely.
When I shared that with my peers during a mentor check-in session, my colleagues agreed. “It’s true, I was out.” said one of the other mentors “I was out at that age but my workplace really encouraged me to keep that part of me secret and hidden. It’s amazing how much has changed in the workplace.”
If these mentees were so comfortable in their own skin, what were they looking for in a mentor? Most shared the same apprehension we all face at the start of our careers.
Some wanted to overcome personal insecurities, like being comfortable speaking to someone “more seasoned” (I am avoiding old in this post so I don’t upset myself or the other mentors).
Some wanted to know what was out there that could allow them to pursue their passions in the workplace. They wanted to know what jobs were right for them, when their own careers service was suggesting fell far short of inspiring.
One thing they all had in common was a craving to find a community they could feel a part of. Most of the mentees in this cohort, as I mentioned, were open about their sexuality and were active in their local LGBTQ+ communities. However, they weren’t sure how to build a new network of LGBTQ+ individuals in their professional lives, feeling strongly that it was important to have this community at work.
The one thing that hasn’t changed in the last ten years is how few LGBTQ+ role models are out there for your professionals to look up to. Almost unanimously mentees agreed on that, which is why these mentoring schemes are so crucial.
Research by BCG found that the first year of employment was particularly important for LGBT+ professionals to come out at work, as only 10% of the people surveyed came out after the first year of employment. Additional research by Vodafone and Out Now found that 41% of 18-25 year olds have gone ‘back into the closet’ within their first year of employment for fear of discrimination.
That’s why GoCardless decided to partner with Career Accelerator to help 18-25 year old LGBTQ+ people learn about LGBTQ+ inclusive job opportunities. We want to ensure that the allies and LGBTQ+ community we’ve built inside GoCardless can help young professionals from the community start off feeling like there is a safe and welcoming environment where they can pursue their ambitions.
From my personal experience as a mentor, I have learned so much both from my peers and from the mentees. I have built deeper relationships with my colleagues and developed some key skills in the process. Most importantly, though, I was reminded by my mentee of the value of being unapologetically myself and how much that can change the workplace for the next generation.
For anyone considering taking part as a mentor or mentee, I couldn’t recommend it enough!