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Pride in the limelight

“I also think LGBTIQ+ issues are in many ways a bellwether for the wider issues of diversity. If you create a welcoming and inclusive environment for the LGBTIQ+ community, by definition that’s about a workplace that is welcoming to everybody.”

This is the first time I've ever been asked to speak at a Pride event and I consider it quite an honour. And I’m speaking this evening as a member of the LGBTIQ+ community.


Let me say I'm a big fan of Justice Michael Kirby and when he has spoken on the theme of LGBTIQ+ he has made a really interesting point, one which is very relevant to my generation.


When I started work, in the early 1980s, we were a part of that era when, if you were LGBTIQ+, you were tolerated. And the word is tolerated - as long as you kept your true identity invisible.


It was important never to seek the limelight. Never to be too overt in what you did. And the word tolerant was also very appropriate because it was a barrier to progress. It was a barrier to leadership to be someone who was seen as being from that group.


Now it is remarkable how times have changed. And it is a necessary tribute to organisations, like ANZ, that so many today welcome someone like me talking at an event like this on this theme.


How much has changed? I think if you'd said to the 21-year-old Paul this would happen, he would not have believed you given his expectations at the time. So tonight I do want to say a big congratulations and thank you to Shayne Elliott and to all of the ANZ leadership.


I joined the ANZ board three and a bit years ago and I have been really struck by the culture, the inclusiveness, the genuineness of what exists here in creating a good, welcoming environment for everybody to work. So well done. Right across the executive team and all the leaders in ANZ, I have found there is always a genuine, sincere desire to create a very equal and inclusive workforce.


I agree with ANZ Pride!’s Darren Sibson in how he describes what Pride is all about. It is all about the LGBTIQ+ community being visible in a positive way.


The idea actually originated around the time of the civil rights movement in the US, well before Pride. On July 4, 1965, gay and lesbian activists held the first Annual Reminder demonstration in Philadelphia - in front of Independence Hall, in order to draw attention to the civil rights still due to the LGBTIQ+ community.


Pride Month began several years later as an annual recognition of the 1969 Stonewall uprising in response to police raids on gay venues in Greenwich Village and it has grown to become a global celebration of the LGBTIQ+ community.


In those early days, if you were LGBTIQ+, you would try and hide your sexual orientation and stay very quiet about your private life. So those demonstrations were all about being visible and making sure people didn't ignore the existence of an LGBTIQ+ community.


The events we hold today are a continuation of that imperative for visibility we have been trying to maintain and expand. And it is very important we continue to do it because it's really about demonstrating, first of all, there are a significant number of LGBTIQ+ people in every workplace and every community.


This idea, this movement, is about making sure we celebrate that diversity – a diversity which enriches workplaces, that actually creates better workplaces – because these are the kind of workplaces which encourage everybody to bring their full selves to work.


I also think LGBTIQ+ issues are in many ways a bellwether for the wider issues of diversity. If you create a welcoming and inclusive environment for the LGBTIQ+ community, by definition that is creating a workplace that is committed to equality and inclusiveness and is therefore welcoming to everybody. And that goes for gender equality, it goes for racial minorities, it goes for religious minorities, it goes for everything.


That is a further reason it is so important we have events like this and that we celebrate who we are. It's easy to take things for granted in that respect.


At my age, I've seen the amazing transition in attitudes over a lifetime. I have a very good friend in the US whose grandfather fought in World War One with Germany. He lost his two brothers in that conflict and was highly decorated by Germany for his valour.


After the war, my friend’s grandfather was a very successful lawyer and indeed had sufficient wealth to build a highly regarded architectural showpiece home and was much lauded in the community.


But he was Jewish and overnight went from being a highly prominent member of German society to having to flee, leaving with next to nothing, before making it to the United States.


The message I take from that is things can change. Minorites in society cannot take acceptance and tolerance for granted. That’s why it is so important we never stop working to make ourselves visible and to talk about the importance and benefits of equality and diversity in the workplace.


There are today many trends emerging, some positive but some in conflict with tolerance and acceptance.


The retailer Target in the US celebrates Pride Month with a Pride range of clothing. But in some stores, to protect their staff, they are having to shift that merchandise out of sight or to the back because of the threatening opposition of some people who would deny others the right to be who they are.


Again, when we see those attitudes, we see the need to highlight the value created when we have events like this that showcase the benefits of diversity. I share totally Darren’s view that we all have a role to play in ensuring we keep up the good work we’re doing to make our workplaces inclusive, to help people be their authentic selves at work, to speak up and call out bad behaviour.

And that’s not just true for our community but for diversity in general, particularly when ANZ is one of the largest companies in Australia and New Zealand with a presence throughout the region.


I’m very pleased that in ANZ we have a contact point and support mechanism for LGBTIQ+ people, allies and people who care for young queer people. I’m proud of the initiatives we’ve taken in support of our community including six weeks paid gender affirmation leave in Australia, New Zealand, India, the Philippines and the Pacific.


We’re also immensely proud to be one of the first banks in the world to introduce non-binary gender and gender-neutral titles to all retail-issued customer products in Australia. So people can see themselves reflected in their banking.


Given my personal history and my – long! – corporate history I have no doubt the work employee resource groups like ANZ Pride do to improve the lives of staff, customers and the community contributes to a more inclusive and diverse society more broadly – and that is good for business and good for everyone.


This is an edited version of a speech given by Paul O’Sullivan at ANZ for the opening of a Pride Month art exhibition. Paul was a member of BOSS magazine's 50 LGBTI leaders list.


Paul O’Sullivan is chairman of ANZ.

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