"True inclusivity starts from self-acceptance"

Co-chair of PROUD@LBS, Xiaoya Zhang on overcoming bias in the LGBTQ+ community


Inclusion and belonging are the bread and butter of LGBTQ+ networks, so it’s interesting to hear that uncomfortable attitudes can exist even within these safe spaces. Identifying as a bisexual cis-gendered woman, Xiaoya Zhang, a Senior Recruitment and Admissions Manager at London Business School, explains that internalised bi-invisible attitudes in the past made her feel ‘not queer enough’. 

“It’s a strange feeling: to feel like you don’t quite fit in with the world, but also a bit of a fraud among a community meant to embody the definition of belonging.”

Unconnected but proud anyway

This ‘imposter syndrome’ mindset held Xiaoya back from being the advocate she wanted to be after moving to the UK from China in 2011 to study an MPhil in Politics, Development and Democratic Education from the University of Cambridge. She says the diversity of race, culture and sexuality among the staff and student body at London Business School and the obvious support of difference has been fundamental to feeling more confident than ever before in being authentic at work.

Still, despite participating actively in PPROUD@LBS, the School’s LGBQT+ employee network, she kept her sexuality private. When it came to the time the network called for new chairs and committee members, she went in with a strong will to contribute, albeit under a hidden identity.

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“The more I spoke about it, the more comfortable I felt talking about it and the prouder I became of my representation.”

“In the beginning of the role, I was determined to be more of the do-er behind the scenes, rather than the face and voice. There is always a feeling that I have not experienced enough to be recognised as a minority, that I am not queer enough to represent, exacerbated by some stereotypes and dismissive comments from both inside and outside of the community. Then I received feedback on not being visible and active enough as a co-chair which made me reflect deeply; reminding me that if you have a platform, you should not waste it on behalf of others who don’t.”

“So, I started to attend more events and open up, and when I did, I realised it was the first time I was coming out officially in public, and so that’s when I told my family and friends. I was so encouraged by the overwhelming support from my personal and professional circles. The more I spoke about it, the more comfortable I felt talking about it and the prouder I became of my representation. I believe that true inclusivity starts from self-acceptance.”

Startup to scaleup

Xiaoya says the past 11 months of co-chairing PROUD@LBS has been a whirlwind and she has enjoyed building on the foundations laid down by past leaders. “The focus over the past year has been launching Pronouns Initiatives at London Business School. We joined up with the LGBTQ+ student club Out in Business for this project. We have made good progress at the School in understanding and educating the significance of using pronouns in everyday practice.”

Xiaoya says that the PROUD@LBS network has become a powerful voice, despite only having existed for three years. Now, she and Satouka are working on building out key processes and strategy for next year, so as to leave the network in good shape to scale-up around key priorities when they hand their roles to the next cohort of committee members.

In the meantime, Xiaoya is keen that people remember the annual Pride event is not just an excuse for a party in the world’s most liberal cities. “London is a hub of diversity and inclusion and it can be easy to forget that in many countries being an open member of the LGBQT+ community is unacceptable and even illegal. It’s important not to be complacent about the hard-earned rights we’ve won in certain parts of the world.

“I’d like to see more focus on intersectionality this year, with light being shone on minority groups within the community. This is what we need for true equality. Every group deserves a platform for their voice.”