#PridePoweringPotential - meet James Atchison-Wootton

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It’s #Pride Month and we’re proud to be celebrating and sharing the stories of some of our people.

James Atchison-Wootton is an Innovation Manager at Robert Walters Group. His role is varied and split between Innovation and Consultancy Services across Resource Solutions and the wider Group. James joined our team only six months ago and, as an out gay man, shares the importance of Pride Month to him.  

Why is Pride important for you and how do you celebrate the movement yourself?

This is actually something that no one has ever asked me – what a great question! I don’t know why, but I used to feel ambivalent about pride and even thought it was sometimes a bit over the top. I even used to think: “Why do we need it?” “What is there to be proud about?” But looking back, that was me being both naïve to the inequalities faced by LGBTQ+ people around the world but even more so, I don’t think I “liked” being gay so did not feel the need to celebrate it. However, I educated my naïve self and was shocked by the state of our world.  

I used to travel a lot for work, and with at least 11 countries in the world where the death penalty is either imposed (or at least a possibility), I arrived in many of these countries (Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar to name a few) and instantly felt like I didn’t belong. One particular memory was from when I was in Malaysia where I was with work colleagues in the only gay bar in Kuala Lumpur, where police raided the bar and arrested Malaysian nationals for no other reason than being gay (or suspected).  

It's for reasons like this, that the Pride movement is still so important.

What were your personal experiences of coming out, both in the workplace and to friends and family? 

I was, what I now know to be, fortunate; my coming out was so unnoteworthy that even answering this question I have to think “how did I actually come out”? After all, are you really coming out when the people around you already knew?

I do, however, remember that I “came out” in reverse in that I told my friends and acquaintances first, followed by my best friends and lastly, my family. In hindsight, I did this from a self-preservation point of view, to “test the waters” of people’s reactions prior to telling the ones who deeply mattered to me. I remember being worried about what they would think and how our relationship might change, but as said, it was so undramatic as most people already assumed as much! 

What is Robert Walters Group like to work for as a member of the LGBTQ+ community? Does the company feel diverse and inclusive and if so, in what ways?

I joined during the weird and wonderful “new normal” that we found ourselves in as we returned to offices after pandemic lockdowns and work from home orders. Joining a company where you knew no one, the new normal hadn’t quite been established and even when you did come into the office, you had no idea who was in wasn’t easy, but, within my first week I was emersed in the LGBTQ+ Employee Network group and in my second week I was lucky enough to  be a part of the Resource Solutions annual awards event which was a perfectly timed orientation and where I met so many diverse people not only from the LGBTQ+ community but from all walks of life. 

I can say with confidence that Robert Walters has been the most inclusive employer that I have worked for to date – in fact, as I speak with you right now, the group is hosting a drag queen performance in the board room.

What advice would you give to anyone who hasn’t come out yet but wants to? And what advice would you give about coming out in the workplace? 

“Go queen, slay it” – this is what I would be screaming inside. However, in all seriousness, whilst it is easier said than done, don’t overthink it. You will have had those conversations in your head already 100,000+ times and thought about everyone’s reaction - mostly the potentially negative ones - and when you finally come out and those words leave your mouth for the first time, a massive feeling of relief and clarity will overcome you. You will look back and think “why did I get myself so worked up about this, no one really cares”.

When it comes to the workplace, and if like me you have just joined a new business, you will find that general conversation when meeting new people will just organically happen. When introducing yourself, just use words such as boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband, and he/she when describing your partner. I remember when I first started doing this and was expecting people to stop me mid-conversation and say “wait, you’re gay?” – not once has this ever happened. 

Has being part of the LGBTQ+ community ever impacted your experience in the workplace?

I have been in the corporate world for over 12 years, and for a young fresh-faced ambitious 20-something-year-old, starting your career is daunting - for everyone, regardless of sexuality. Nobody knows themselves at 20, you’re trying to find your way around, ‘attempting’ to be an adult and then you add being “different” to the mix - I found imposter syndrome heightened even more. I remember in the early years of starting my career, whilst I wasn’t ashamed of being gay and was openly out, it was still something that I didn’t actively bring up in conversations. I would use phrases such as my “partner” rather than “boyfriend,” and wouldn’t correct people if they used “she” when referring to my “partner.” Just simply by doing this, I was adding to my own demons of feeling I wasn’t good enough and not being my true self. 

How has that changed over the years and have there been any improvements?

What a time to be gay – I am blown away by how inclusive our society has become. Whilst workplaces have come on leaps and bounds, it is the societal changes that to me, have had the biggest impact. 

If 15-year-old James had access to the full resource of the internet that we have today (I’m from the old dial-up days – which I’m pretty sure in “gay” terms means I’m a dinosaur) and could turn on the TV and be presented with same-sex couples as standard (don’t even get me started on Netflix’s Heartstopper because that is a genius showpiece that took me back in time – so relatable), that James would have avoided a few internal storms and sleepless nights worrying and trying to figure out who I was/am.