Posted: 02 May 2018 10 min. read

Passing on the rainbow baton

Discussion on Marriage Equality and role models.

From Westpac Group, one of Australia’s leading financial institutions, comes two inspirational LGBTI leaders – Outstanding 50 2016 alumni and General Counsel, Rob McGrory and Outstanding 50 2018 Leader and Head of Inclusion & Diversity, Sam Turner. Here they discuss Marriage Equality, role models and try to guess each other’s favourite animal.

Let’s get the ball rolling with something fun. If you were able to magically insert yourself into any movie or TV show for a day, which one would it be and why?

It’s hard for me to narrow it down to one, so here’s two! I always loved the TV show the West Wing. It was a fascinating insight into American Politics and I loved the characters. The nerdy one I would say is Star Trek, I’ve always been a bit of a fan – it was such a ground-breaking show for its time, with a huge diversity of characters.

Sam: I am going to go with Homeland, because it has a really strong female character, and she also has a mental illness. In my opinion, the show features one of the first fully fleshed out female characters that have portrayed that aspect really well.

Rob, you were named in our inaugural Outstanding 50 Leaders list in 2016, how did you find the experience?

For me, being part of this initiative was less about the individuals featured in the group, and more about providing role models for those who need to see them. When I was a young man starting in banking, there were some lists similar to this, but they were more community or celebrity focused. What I liked about this list was that it was business focused, relatable and featured a broad cross-section of the community.

When I was initially asked to be part of Out 50, I wasn’t really sure how significant it would be. But I started getting emails from people at Westpac and through social media, people I didn’t even know, saying how important it was to them to see an ‘out’ gay role model at work. I got a really touching email from one young gay man, who said that we shouldn’t underestimate how significant this list was to him and others like him.

Rob, you’ve worked for more than 15 years with Westpac. How has it been working at the bank and what has kept you there for such a remarkable period of time?

I feel really lucky to work for Westpac! I love the culture of Westpac and I’ve had many opportunities here to grow my career, which is why I’ve stayed.

I made a decision many years ago, that I would not work somewhere where I couldn’t be myself. I can honestly say, it has never been an issue for me at work here.

I had a conversation recently with a lawyer at a firm who doesn’t get involved with the LGBTI network there because he is worried that it might affect his ability to become a partner. For me that would be exhausting, not being able to share what you did on the weekend or talk about your family. And it’s a reminder that we still have more to do to achieve full equality and social justice for the LGBTI community.

You both spent time volunteering for the Aurora Group, tell us a little bit about the charity and the work you did there?

Sam: I’m quite new to Aurora, I joined the board at the end of last year as the new partnerships director. The Aurora Group gives grants to small LGBTI groups that would not otherwise get funding and it has a real regional and outreach focus. It is a charity I hold dear to my heart; they make a real difference at the grassroots level. For some of these smaller LGBTI groups and organisations, even a small amount of money goes a long way, so I am very excited at the opportunity be a part of their future.

Rob: As Sam said, what makes Aurora so great is that there’s a group of dedicated people really delivering. I believe in that old saying “the world is changed by the people who turn up” and that is reflective of my time there – so many dedicated volunteers making a difference.

One of the unexpected benefits of volunteering is that you can learn a whole bunch of new skills. When I first joined Aurora, I didn’t know the first thing about events, but thought that I could probably help with governance. However, the nature of volunteer work is you roll your sleeves up and get involved with everything – so I learned a lot. I still use those skills today when I’m thinking about how to bring together a group of people and how do I collaborate – it just rounds you out as a professional.

Sam, over to you now, as Westpac’s Head of Inclusion and Diversity we’re very interested to know what you think the value of initiatives such as the Out 50 is to LGBTI Australians and the broader public.

Sam: One of the key things that drives change is education, and one of the biggest drivers around education is awareness and visibility. I’m a passionate advocate for role models, mentors and sponsors. What the Out 50 does is provide visible role models and an opportunity for young people to see and to know that there are people like them out there in some way, shape or form. And, to know that they’re not alone and whatever it is that they want to strive for, that there is an example of someone doing it out there.

Sam, you’ve spoken on a few occasions on the role of out LGBTI women at work. From your experience, what is holding women back and what can workplaces do to better support them?

It’s a really challenging question and there will always be individual nuances: for each woman, and every workplace. But whilst acknowledging that things will vary, the onus is on the organisation to create the environment and culture of inclusion.

Again, I think it comes back to education. For women who identify as LGBTI, the challenges can be twofold. Incorporate Australia the double bind is that not only are many already treated as a minority for being a woman but secondly many have been marginalised for being LGBTI. One of the things I remember clearly noticing when I came across to Westpac was the bank had above 40 per cent of women in leadership, and where I had come from was not even close to that. Having that critical mass, and those voices around the table equips me and other women with a plethora of role models that they can go to. It makes a massive difference.

What’s holding women back? I think outdated leadership styles, a lack of visible role models and that our leaders need to make a conscious effort to display inclusive leadership behaviours and traits.

Last year’s Marriage Equality national debate was difficult for many LGBTI Australians, and a great number of workplaces mobilised to support their LGBTI staff and allies. Did anything particularly stand out to you?

Sam: I think from my perspective, what Westpac nailed as an organisation was the visibility and education piece. In terms of clearly outlining, why is this an important issue for LGBTI Australians and your LGBTI colleagues? We achieved this through a communication approach that was two-pronged: including messaging from our LGBTI employee network and also from our senior leaders.

We were very much about encouraging fair and respectful debate. Our communication approach wasn’t about encouraging people to vote yes, it was about encouraging to engage in the conversation.

I totally agree with Sam. One additional factor to mention, and it seems to be specific to Australian companies and Australian corporate culture, is if you compare them to, say, American corporates, they seem to be much less involved in political issues. So it was interesting to see Australian companies buck that trend, even in the face of some political criticism.

It’s my view that corporates have an incredibly important role to play in helping to shape responses on social issues and that role is both an external one and an internal one. All organisations will have LGBTI employees, and knowing that the employer was supporting their people during that time was important.

When times get tough, where do you find strength and resilience?

Making time for friends and family, and also exercise! I am an absolute exercise demon. I love getting on the bike and getting in the ocean. I’ve also discovered that regular yoga practice makes a massive difference to my headspace. I think it’s really important particularly when you’re in more senior roles where you’re giving a lot of energy out, to set aside the time for yourself even if it is just a 30-minute walk along the beach or a high-intensity class.

I also keep a bank of nice emails and texts I’ve received – you know those days where you’re incredibly tired, you’ve done all of your work and your charity work, and a favour for a friend and you ask yourself ‘why do I do all this?’ Then, at the end of it all, you’ll get a message or a text from someone in the organization saying “thank you, I’ve just come out to mum” or “I feel more comfortable at work than I’ve ever felt.” I love to go back and re-read those as a nice reminder of why we do what we do.

I think I’m someone who has fairly high resilience – which now that I think of it may be a reflection of some level of stubbornness! Similarly to Sam, I also revert to exercise. Actually, now that we’re sitting here side by side, I’m realising that Sam and I have very similar attitudes!

For me, my friends are my family. It is also about taking time out for one’s self. In more senior roles, you can easily spend an entire day problem solving for others, brokering solutions or peacekeeping or dealing with the crisis to crisis – all of which I enjoy and find motivating – but when you’re doing that all day, you do need a moment where it is just you. So I will go into my own shell a bit and have my own peacetime.

Let’s end where we started, with a bit of fun. So here’s a game: try and guess the other person’s favourite animal and why you think they would like it. Then reveal your actual answer.

Rob: It’s clearly going to be her golden retriever; which Sam is always posting about – that was easy for me!

Close, but my favourite animal is actually a lion! Particularly the Lionesses, they’re very majestic and very calm. I’m a vegetarian, so it’s a bit of a weird animal for me to like. It’s that whole king of the jungle, calm under pressure. That’s my favourite.

Gosh, what would Rob’s favourite animal be? It needs to be a very pretty animal doesn’t it, like a beautiful parrot I think.

I always grew up with dogs, but my current lifestyle isn’t very dog-friendly. I used to have a cat who sadly passed away last year (she made it to 18 years though!). She was more like a dog – you could call her name and she would come to you and jump on your lap. So in terms of domestic animals, I would say a cat who behaves a bit like a dog.

Sam is one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018 – a list that recognises and celebrates the many LGBTI role models in the business. For more on our inspirational LGBTI leaders visit our Outstanding 50 webpage.