A McKinsey LGBTQ+ leader who’s helping to build a global alliance

“I’ve often been called the mother hen for our southern offices LGBTQ+ community,” jokes Diana Ellsworth. But this McKinsey partner takes seriously her opportunity to be open and authentic about who she is.

A former teacher, Diana is a global co-lead of our firms worldwide network of LGBTQ+ colleagues, known as GLAM, and she leads our Diversity and Inclusion Practice for the Americas. In 2018, she and another firm partner launched a new kind of McKinsey forum that convened over 115 LGBTQ+ senior business leaders from around the world: The Alliance.

“It’s the first global community of its kind,” Diana says. “We’re bringing together prominent leaders across sectors who are dedicated to accelerating positive change in their own organizations and communities.”

This September in Florida, the Alliance assembled for the second consecutive year. Across two days of inclusion and diversity programming focusing on personal, organizational, and societal concerns, our firm also previewed new research.

Alliance members in a breakout discussion
2019 attendees of The Alliance.
Alliance members in a breakout discussion

Over the course of the past year, the McKinsey team organizing the event conducted interviews and analyzed data on LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. “One of our goals since we first launched The Alliance has been to understand and contribute to new LGBTQ+ research,” says Kevin Major, a McKinsey associate partner.

Ana Mendy, a McKinsey partner, shared one of the team’s early findings. “While all women face more obstacles in the workplace than men, queer women are at a particular disadvantage,” she said. “To achieve equality, companies need to turn good intentions into concrete actions.”

Organizations that do stand a lot to gain, according to McKinsey research on the business case for diversity. In fact, S&P 500 companies rated more inclusive of LGBTQ+ colleagues show ten-year financial shareholder returns more than twice as high as less-inclusive companies.

The Alliance continued its work on the topic as part of this year’s event. Attendees were asked to share their own stories and experiences to provide qualitative aspects of the research that will be released later in 2019. 

My super powers are energy and resilience, and the closet was holding me back

Deborah SherryFormer general manager and chief commercial officer of GE Digital Europe

“We want to see how LGBTQ+ leaders’ sense of strength and experience are similar and how they’re different from their non-LGBTQ+ peers,” explains Diana. “This will help illuminate for organizations how they can foster LGBTQ+ employees into leaders and avoid unintended roadblocks.”

Some suggestions offered at the event included ensuring fair hiring and promotion practices and offering employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives. One executive expressed a desire to be defined by more than her sexual orientation, a sentiment that resonated widely among those present.

Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’ Lakes
Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’ Lakes
Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’ Lakes

“I can do my best work if I’m just authentically myself,” said Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes. “I want to be Beth the CEO, not Beth the gay CEO,” she added.

In breakout discussions, participants talked about leadership characteristics, enablers and barriers of success, and coming out at work. An overarching theme throughout was the importance of having a support system and strong interpersonal relationships.

“So much of our vision for The Alliance is to create a platform for senior leaders to connect and expand their own networks,” says Diana. “We often hear people say they have a strong professional network and a strong LGBTQ+ network, but seldomly do they overlap.”

The Alliance offers members a platform to do just that: connect globally and surface opportunities to share experience, expertise, and even resources between individuals and institutions.

Beyond building connections, The Alliance has set up working groups of members committed to making progress on specific topics, such as building acceptance in regions where LGBTQ+ people are not treated equally.

“We’re thinking about how we can use our influence to help convert legal rights into greater social equality and inclusion and identify best practices to implement in companies in those markets,” says Ali Potia, a McKinsey partner and member of this working group. Currently there is a pilot event planned in India for early next year, and members have started working with local leaders there.

Alliance members in a breakout discussion
Ali Potia (center) during a breakout discussion with 2019 members of The Alliance.
Alliance members in a breakout discussion

LGBTQ+ youth is another area with a member-led working group and was a widely-discussed topic. “We need to find ways to enable young people to thrive in educational settings, the workplace, and their personal lives,” says Diana.

One way The Alliance is addressing this is by creating a research brief for 2020 outlining the need for more holistic, up-to-date data on LGBTQ+ youth in the US, such as school absenteeism and evidence-based interventions, with the hope of eventually expanding the research globally.

“It’s hard to believe that when I joined McKinsey over ten years ago I was the only out colleague in our Southern US region,” says Diana. “I look around today and feel inspired that, as a community, we’re working towards creating visible leadership role models and safe spaces for others to be out all across the world.”

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