This month the Robert Walters Group is proud to be celebrating Pride across the world with our colleagues, teammates and friends, and sharing some of the stories of our people.
Tom Lakin is Director of Innovation at the Robert Walters Group, where he leads our Resource Solutions consultancy practice. Tom joined the Group in 2011 as a recruiter and helped set up our Innovation team in 2015. As an out gay man, Tom shares some of his reflections on what Pride means to him.
Why is Pride important for you?
Pride is important as it allows us to look both forwards and back – it allows us to celebrate how far we have come and also reminds us that there is so much left to do. The fact that some countries such as Iran are still executing people for being gay in 2022 and the rise of the gender-critical movement in countries such as the UK means Pride isn’t 100% celebration (though there will certainly be a lot of partying too this year!).
As the Chair of the Robert Walters LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group, this year I will be hosting events such as our pride Watch Party (where colleagues all join to watch LGBTQ+ films) as well as joining our company wide cultural conversations – and our company Drag Quiz, hosted by Tiana Biscuit is a Pride highlight!
What were your personal experiences of coming out?
I finally admitted it to myself that I was gay when I was 17 though didn’t really make peace with it until many years later. I actually went back in the closet slightly for a while at University – I never really felt quite at home there and also didn’t come out to some of my managers on my graduate scheme. I found the career and workplace that made me happy when I was 24 and everything kind of slotted in to place then. I probably took it too far then and exploded out of the closet again – I actually got told off by my MD at the time for the “excessive number of Zac Efron posters” in my office!
Has being part of the LGBTQ+ community every impacted your experience in the workplace?
Never in a directly negative way. I think largely the impact has been wasting time and energy on over-thinking things. I remember finding it awkward when talking about my personal life with predominantly straight, white male senior management – should I use the term ‘partner’ which sounds like I’m trying to hide my sexuality or ‘boyfriend’ which makes it sound like we met in a club the night before? This is a tiny example obviously, but I think it re-enforces the benefit of an inclusive working environment – all that wasted energy and thought can go in to being happy, open and productive.
How has that changed over the years and have there been any improvements?
The younger members of the workforce have normalised LGBTQ+ - it’s just less of a topic. I’m a middle class, middle aged, cisgendered, white man – so sadly it’s probably to be expected that I’ve had a relatively easy time - not everything has improved for everyone though – transgender people have a tough time, particularly in the UK. That’s why Pride always has to retain an element of activism.
What is Robert Walters 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’ve been at Robert Walters Group for 11 years now and, being frank, if it wasn’t a place where I could bring my whole self to work, I would be long gone. In many ways the Group is a trailblazer when it comes to representation – the Resource Solutions business is a majority-female business (including C-suite), we have employees openly identifying as LGBTQ+ at all levels of our business, again up to EXCO level. We have never been a snobby organisation, I think partly because recruitment is, by its nature, a meritocratic industry. Last we we also appointed a global Head of ED&I, Coral Bamgboye, and our HR leadership has a pretty pioneering approach so the pace of change is fast.
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?
There is no coming out 101 to be honest, it’s different for everyone but for me, it’s been about finding the right time. I think even now, coming out is undeniably a stressful situation so make sure other things are going well in your life too and that you have as much of a support network as you can. If your workplace has an LGBTQ+ employee resource group then do use them as a support too – the groups often have experienced members who can share their stories too.