London Business School (LBS) opened the doors of its London campus to Europe’s biggest gathering of LGBTQ+ business school talent and LGBTQ+ allies on 16-18 November at the 13th annual EUROUT conference organised by LBS’ Out in Business student club. Now a firm favourite in the LGBTQ+ student calendar, over 400 business students from across the globe came together to draw inspiration from the talented LGBTQ+ business professionals sharing their experiences of being out at work and their views on the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ business community. Students and professionals alike spent the weekend attending panels, speeches, networking events, and a career fair to connect and explore identity in the workplace.
Over 50 LGBTQ+ speakers and allies from leading global businesses addressed the theme of this year’s conference ‘Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges’, offering their thoughts on the role of companies and allies in ensuring a more inclusive environment for queer employees. Inspirational keynote speeches were provided by Christopher Kenna (he/him), CEO of Brand Advance Group and Stephanie Fuller (she/her), CEO of Switchboard, a confidential helpline to the LGBTQ+ community, on the cusp of its 50th year of existence.
A wide variety of topics were covered across the three-day event, which was opened by LBS Dean, François Ortalo-Magné (he/him), and Out in Business Club Co-Presidents Alistair Adams (he/him) and Devon Chen (he/him). The conference was sponsored by more than 20 leading firms, including Co-Lead Sponsors BCG and Strategy& and Diamond Sponsors Ares and Bain & Company. Panellists explored queer experiences across faith, the arts and different industries, such as construction, consulting and finance, shedding a light on the DEI progress made within their respective fields. The conference also offered insight into the business benefits of addressing polarising issues, as well as honing in on the difficulties facing transgender and non-binary employees.
Key insights across the conference included the importance of having visible role models and supportive networks to engender a sense of belonging, as well as mentoring and sponsorship opportunities as minorities are over-mentored and under-sponsored. The speakers also highlighted the need for companies to be honest about having operations in countries that don’t offer protections to all employees and stressed how psychological safety and authenticity at work creates huge benefits for both employers and employers, freeing people to be creative, productive, innovative and professional.
Allyship was a constant theme across the conference, with many of the speakers highlighting the need for allies to be actively engaged as ‘performative allyship’ does more harm than good. Professor Randall Peterson (he/him), who led a panel discussion about how not to fail allyship, stressed that people can’t be real allies if they aren’t prepared to step up when things get a little rough. He also highlighted that most important thing in allyship is an ability to listen and learn as allyship is a partnership.
Kayus Fernander (he/him), Senior Vice President at Citi spoke of the inspiration he draws from the disrupters of the past, especially Bayard Rustin – an African-American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights – who he considers to be a shining example of how to be an ally. Mr Rustin fought for the rights of others even though, as a gay, Black American in the 1940s, he was side-lined, imprisoned and fired from jobs because of his sexuality and the causes he supported.
Many of the speakers brought deeply personal insights into the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community, both historic and current. Matthew Hodson (he/him), Executive Director of NAM, offered a highly emotive account of marginalisation, having grown up in the shadow of HIV and AIDS, which separated the gay community from mainstream society. Maria Clara Sayeg (she/her) drew on her experience to highlight the numerous skills possessed by the LGBTQ+ community that businesses can benefit from – communication skills; empathy; diversity; courage and resilience –, offering her thoughts on why LGBTQ+ and business are the perfect match.
It is clear from the conference that an inclusive environment has deep benefits but that many challenges still remain. EUROUT ended on a hopeful note, however, with Switchboard CEO Stephanie Fuller sharing a heart-warming message from a service user who had called to say: “I first phoned in 1979. I was just turning 15 at that point and I was told about some of the groups supporting LGBTQ+ people at that time. My life changed and I will be forever grateful.”