An interview with Geffrye Parsons
Updated: Apr 20
Welcome to the It Gets Better UK Blog!
This month we speak to Geffrye Parsons, the inspirational LGBTQ+ leader who took his former employer, financial services provider Macquarie Group, to the #1 ranking on Stonewall’s 2022 Workplace Equality Index, before setting up his own DE&I consultancy practice, The Inclusion Imperative.
Please be aware that this post touches on the topics of mental health and suicide.
Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed Geff!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I am a British caucasian cis gay man, happily married for 20 years to my Canadian Chinese husband, Kevin.
I grew up in London, but have also lived in Spain, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Netherlands, and I speak Spanish and French as well as English.
I am qualified as a UK Chartered Accountant, and spent 35 years in financial and professional services. Until February 2022, I was a Managing Director at Macquarie Group, where I chaired the LGBTQ+ network for 8 years, and in that capacity spearheaded Macquarie’s ascent from outside the top 300 to #1 on Stonewall’s annual Workplace Equality Index in 2022. During that time, I also won the ‘LGBT+ Inspirational Leader’ award at the British LGBT Awards (2019), have twice been shortlisted for ‘Corporate/Business Role Model’ award at the PinkNews Awards, and have three times (2018, 2019, 2021) been ranked in the annual Financial Times/Yahoo Finance list of the ‘Top 100 LGBTQ+ Executives’ globally.
I am now CEO of The Inclusion Imperative, a DE&I consultancy business, using my experience, knowledge and skills to help improve the standards of DE&I, and especially LGBTQ+ inclusion, in other organisations, through consulting, diagnostics, training, coaching, mentoring, speaking and writing engagements.
2. Tell us a bit about your own mental health experiences and being LGBTQ+?
There was a lot of parental pressure on me to during my early life to achieve and conform; I was highly driven and successful at school and in my studies, and I was very much set up as carrying the hopes and dreams of my parents, who – although they had run a successful family business – never had the same educational or professional opportunities as I did. With that expectation on me, it took me half my lifetime to overcome the pressure to conform by accepting that I was gay, and to come out. So I fully understand the mental challenges which LGBTQ+ people face; I would be lying if I did not confess to having some suicidal thoughts when I was coming out, as I felt very alone – I was living in Hong Kong at the time, with my family several thousand miles away. It took me a long time to fully grasp the nettle; my relationship with my first boyfriend was very clandestine, and several more years passed before I felt strong enough to authentically embrace being LGBTQ+ at work. I am doing my best to make up for lost time now, and to ‘pay it forward’ for others!
3. What do you think LGBTQ+ people can learn from your experiences?
It really DOES get better!
Never give in to despair – there are plenty of people like you, and plenty more who will be very willing to offer allyship support and help. You are far from alone.
Having managed to successfully navigate this (never-ending!) journey myself, it is incumbent on me to use my experience to help others. I was honoured to act as a Mental Wellbeing Ambassador for many years at Macquarie, giving me the opportunity to help many people who were struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity. It was extremely gratifying to be able to assist. But most important of all was the simple fact that those people knew they had a potential refuge, a safe space, and a sympathetic person they could talk to in confidence, to help them work through their challenges. Everybody’s journey is unique – each person must work out for themselves if, when and how to come out, and to whom. I am a great believer in authenticity, but moderated by one’s own personal agency – everyone should be able to share as much (or as little) of their personal characteristics with others (in or out of the workplace) as they feel comfortable with.
4. If you had one key message for LGBTQ+ people, what would it be?
I have two!
Firstly, we are stronger together – so to the fullest extent possible, we should all pull together and act as allies and boosters for other parts of the community, including those who identify as trans or non-binary; it is very sad that in recent years there has grown a schism between some members of the LGB community and the T. Solidarity makes sense; we have much more in common than apart.
Secondly, challenging though it may be in many cases, we need above all to promote engagement – both within and beyond the community; it is the only way we can make progress from here, and more importantly avoid potentially losing the hard-won progress we have made in the past half century or so. This means avoiding echo chambers or preaching to the choir – we need to create a psychologically safe space for all people, acting with goodwill, to express their viewpoints and concerns so that we can work together to reach a consensus. The current situation, in many political and social spheres, is distressingly and unhelpfully partisan; this needs to change if we are to progress (or even just maintain current levels of) LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion.
5. Is there anything you want to add to the interview that we haven’t captured here already?
I believe that commercial organisations, which contain so many (actual and potential) changemakers, and have the clout and wherewithal to make a difference, need to embrace their role as key engines of progress, as it is unwise to leave that solely to governmental bodies, with the risk of it becoming a political football. Organisational learning – from within, from experts, from peers – is essential, not only to reap the well-established commercial benefits of true inclusion, but also to drive the progress towards inclusion, equity and belonging in broader society. I am proud to have helped several organisations to start or to significantly progress on that journey so far, and I take great pride in also pledging to do so wherever and whenever I can in the future.
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