Tell us a bit about how you started your career and the journey that led you to your current role?
I started my career in administration and clerical, working in several industries and sectors, then gravitated toward HR Consulting in 2007. My passion for DEIB occurred in a role I had in an advertising agency, about 8 years ago – and that’s really where I started to get involved professionally in the D&I space. After that, I became the head of membership services at Diversity Works New Zealand, this is the national body promoting diversity in the workplace. Through that role I was very fortunate to make the acquaintance of Ryan Baker, who was the co-founder of Timely. Over a period of about a year we had conversations about the DEIB journey, and the importance of progressing this work in the commercial space. When the opportunity to join Timely came, it was a no-brainer for me. This company is fully committed to this work, and importantly in spreading the message. I was appointed to the role of Chief People & Inclusion Officer at Timely in 2020, the first people and inclusion role at an executive level to exist in New Zealand - the role is now known as Senior Vice President of PX, Culture & Inclusion. In July 2021, Timely was acquired by US-based EverCommerce, and as of February 2022, I was also appointed to another newly created role, as Global Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). I do both roles, which is demanding and chaotic – but I absolutely love it.
Pride month is celebrated to honour the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York and although the world has come a long way since then what do you feel still needs to be done to create a more inclusive and equitable world/or working world?
We still have a lot of minority groups on the fringes of society, and we also still must combat the mindset that diversity is a nice thing to do for people. It’s not about being nice, it’s the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Everyone is entitled to their place of belonging in our community, and everyone brings with them a unique set of experiences which add value to the collective effort. The richness and variety that a mixed and accepting community achieves is a win for everyone.
That’s what we must work on, getting people to understand that this work benefits everyone!
Have you ever experienced or feared discrimination because of your sexual orientation or gender identity in your career?
Absolutely, certainly in the early days. A lot of doors were closed to me early on. Fortunately, there has been some progress around acceptance over time, and I was also fortunate to encounter some very progressive and far-sighted employers who could actually see the value of having me in their workplace. It’s amazing the impact a few special individuals can have on your life. Even today, there are workplaces that I don’t think would consider a transgender candidate for a role. But I think these are becoming fewer and fewer.
What advice would you want to share with someone struggling to express their true self in the workplace?
You need to have the courage to be who you are, and you need to find allies in the workplace who can support you in doing this. Your employer should understand that if you aren’t able to be your true self at work, they aren’t going to get the best work from you. It takes a lot of bravery sometimes to break this ground if nobody has gone before you, but ultimately you need to be you. And if you can’t do it in that workplace then you need to find somewhere more accepting. It will be their loss, not yours.
What does inclusivity in the workplace mean to you and what negative effects can a non-inclusive workplace have on someone from the LGBTIQ+ community?
Inclusivity for me is about acknowledging and respecting and valuing difference. It is also about making sure all of your team knows that they belong there, as their true and authentic selves. For LGBTIQ+ people who have to endure a non-accepting workplace, they have to basically hide who they are for a good portion of their life. That is tremendously damaging and stressful. How can a person embrace work challenges and be their best, if they have to deny their real selves? It would be like making a left-handed person write with their right hand.
The workplace also misses out. They lose that vibrancy and difference. They miss out on having people who have the confidence to bring their best thinking and life experience to the role.
Statistics show that diverse teams are more successful. In your opinion, what are some of the approaches businesses should be taking to build a better workforce for the future?
Building a better workforce through creating a progressive DEIB culture is a journey. It starts with the leadership of a business declaring their intent, and incorporating these values within their culture, and in their policies. Creating a safe and accepting environment, encouraging diversity of thought, valuing difference. Above all businesses need to create a sense of belonging for all their team. It’s about acknowledging that everyone has their place on the team as a right, not as a favor.
Difference also needs to be acknowledged in the sense that it’s not enough to simply treat everyone the same. If we did that, wheelchair users wouldn’t be given ramps. The same principle applies, acknowledging differences means making space for those differences. The effort involved in doing this will be rewarded with a more engaged, more varied workforce all contributing through their unique talents.