WorldPride Sydney begins today. It’s a momentous occasion – the largest event in our city since the 2000 Olympics – and a huge milestone for the LGBTQIA+ community. The Missing Link’s Matt Hickey explores allyship for himself.
The purpose of WorldPride is to promote and advocate for LGBTQIA+ human rights around the world. It’s the moment when we celebrate who we are. It also coincides with the fifth anniversary of marriage equality in Australia and my first wedding anniversary with my husband, who I’ve been with for 15 years.
Pride is about standing together, celebrating progress, and being proud of how far we have come. It’s fair to say we’ve taken great strides toward equality, both in and out of the workplace – but it hasn’t always been this way. And there’s still a way to go.
So, as over half a million people descend on Sydney to celebrate our diverse identities, I wanted to share my experience of working in the marketing industry for over 25 years as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and my advice for others on a similar journey. Here’s how I became my own biggest ally in the workplace.
My career has been filled with ups and downs. I remember earlier in my career, working for a company dominated by males. At that time, I was afraid of being who I truly was and feared for my wellbeing and happiness at work.
So, I made the decision to completely fabricate a different persona for myself.
I pretended to be someone I wasn’t, told lies about my weekends, and even had a fake girlfriend who I brought along to work dinners. I was constantly worried about what I wore to work on casual Fridays, thinking that someone might realise I was different. The fear of losing my job or facing consequences for being my authentic self was always at the front of my mind.
Living a lie was exhausting and at times, debilitating. I had to remember so many lies and even wrote them down so I wouldn’t forget. I felt paralysed in meetings, worried my body language might give away my biggest secret. It was a constant battle to keep up the charade.
It all came to a head at a Christmas party, when people started making comments and throwing innuendos. I took the opportunity to come out to my colleagues and was surprised by their positive reactions. They already assumed and the years of pretending to be someone I wasn’t had been a waste of time.
From that day on, I never pretended to be someone I wasn’t at work again. I applied for other roles in different companies and would wait until the final round of interviews to tell them who I was. If they came back and said there may be challenges, I would simply move on. Over time, I no longer felt the need to do this. I am who I am, and if someone has an issue with that, it’s their problem to work through, not mine. I was no longer afraid of being rejected because of my identity.
Instead, I focused on highlighting my strengths and what I could bring to the table, and it paid off. I’ve worked for companies that value inclusivity and who appreciated me for who I am. I am now happy and fulfilled in my career, and I no longer worry about hiding my true self.
Unfortunately, many in the LGBTQIA+ community still live in fear of not being able to achieve their professional goals, and this is unacceptable. The fear of not being taken seriously, not being considered for promotions, the fear of being left out, and being the subject of gossip can be all too real. It’s important to understand that sexual preference has no reflection on how we perform as professionals. The bottom line is that everyone deserves to be accepted for who they are.
My journey taught me a very important lesson: be true to yourself. Not just at work, but in all aspects of life. Authenticity is a valuable quality that can bring success and happiness – and inspire others to bring their full selves to work, as well.
Don’t let fear or societal pressure dictate who you are or how you present yourself. Stand tall and embrace your unique qualities, because they are what make you special and set you apart from the rest.
Most of all, never compromise your authenticity for anyone or anything. Be your own most powerful ally in the workplace. WorldPride is a better time than any to start!