Gay business leaders discuss mentoring, fighting stereotypes.

In the year In 1995, WPP US Public Affairs Lead Brian Ellner was a summer associate at his first law firm, taking the bus to a company golf outing. When he came out as gay in law school, he decided not to hide his sexuality for the sake of his job, but surrounded by his mostly straight colleagues, he didn’t feel brave.

Sitting next to Ellner on the bus was Elaine Johnston, a senior associate at the firm who had recently been promoted to partner. After introducing herself on the bus, she became his mentor, a major sponsor of pro bono work he did in his first year as an attorney in the famous United States v. Virginia case, including letting Ellner take ABBA VHS tapes while he worked. He used treadmills in the company gym.

It was clear that she had made up her background. [research]I must have known who I was and wanted me. It made it so much easier for me to be open,” says Eller. “It took that kind of person; it took a very high-level consultant at a prestigious law firm at a time when very few people were. It made it clear that I could be successful here and be true to myself.”

Since then, Eleanor has been encouraged to pursue civil service at Johnston and has embraced the LGBT movement professionally. In the year . Ali was a founding member of the non-profit Athlete Athlete, which focuses on LGBT inclusion in sports.

Eleanor is part of a growing group of people who have broken through the “gay glass ceiling” of anti-gay sentiment that has held back generations of LGBT professionals—thanks to changing societal attitudes and counseling from queer colleagues. But recent research highlights the obstacles that remain to removing that glass ceiling for good.

In January, University of Sydney researcher Ben Gerrard published the findings of a study in which he created a humorous television commercial brief for a campaign to promote tourism in Sydney, using six gay actors who were instructed to act out the same script in female and male behavior. . Then 256 gay and lesbian men voted for a candidate they described as a “leader.” Both groups chose the most masculine candidates, suggesting that among gay men, many women gay men are less likely to be selected for senior roles – which has implications for Gerrard’s chances of being hired and promoted.

Gerrard’s study cites research from the Institute of Labor Economics in the United Kingdom, which found that gay men and lesbians are more likely to have workplace authority than their straight counterparts, but are more likely to be lower-level managers altogether. It was much lower than that of heterosexual men competing in high-status and high-paying senior management positions.

“When organizations value responsibility and efficiency [LGBT employees] Come on, there’s still resistance to official recognition and real power being given high leadership positions,” says Gerrard. “Perhaps there is an unconscious neglect of their ability to create trust and influence in groups that engage in outdated biases.”

That frequency has translated into overt anti-gay discrimination at work, prompting Cascade Pacific Council CEO Gary Carroll—the Boy Scouts of America’s first gay and black CEO—to hide his sexuality as he rose through the ranks of the organization. A.A. It ended in 2015 with a ban on gay staff and scout leaders. “I tried really hard to get attention away from me, especially my personal life,” says Carroll, adding that he has changed his behavior, gotten rid of the high ground, and found himself. Working odd hours to limit interactions and prevent others from getting too close. “I felt like I was constantly working with one hand tied behind my back.”

When the Boy Scouts ended their ban on gay employees, Carroll—then a field director in Portland, Oregon—told his boss that he was the organization’s first gay executive. He then began building a support network for his LGBT colleagues, using the informal relationships he built with co-workers in the company’s LGBT employee support group, which he still runs, to reveal his sexuality.

“I felt like I could go all out. [like] “I was able to combine all the parts of my life into something else—a calling on a mission to help other people and create opportunities for youth and families,” Carroll says. This will help address a trend among LGBT workers to avoid working in gender-dominated occupations—which some estimate has cost STEM industries as many as 120,000 candidates due to anti-LGBT bias.

Researcher Gerrard says the challenges gay men face are similar to those faced by women. On top of that, traits like warmth, empathy and good communication skills – often associated with femininity – are indeed effective leadership qualities, he said, and the findings “should be viewed as further support for outdated expectations of what qualities modern leaders should possess.” He said.

As a gay leader, Eleanor is focused on helping young colleagues come into their own, the way Johnston helped them. When Alana Spellman, a junior strategist at WPP, was hired to support Eleanor in March 2020 for growth and marketing, she says that before Eleanor came out as gay, she was involved in guiding the way in the company. Spellman says Ellner has included her in his pro bono work fighting anti-trans legislation and working with LGBT groups.

He is at the top of the organization and is highly respected by everyone in the company. It helped me feel comfortable,” says Spellman. “No one cares [about his sexuality], and everyone respects it, so maybe it will be the same for me. Many people leading positions in LGBTQ+ work are gay, and they have risen to the top at the highest levels. But Brian has always made me feel like, as a gay woman, I have as much agency and opportunity to make an impact as anyone.

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