Driving LGBTQ+ equality and greater acceptance in the workplace and society is a cornerstone of McKinsey’s work. It’s this ethos that gave rise to The Alliance, a convening of LGBTQ+ leaders hosted by McKinsey since 2018. This year in Athens, The Alliance held its first in-person gathering since 2019, after two years of virtual programming due to COVID-19.
Through key research and by drawing a range of voices to the event, The Alliance aims to provide attendees with the powerful network and knowledge necessary to take on the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people in their organizations and communities.
The global director of this year’s event, McKinsey associate partner David Baboolall, discusses the event’s increase in diversity, speakers from high-risk places, such as Ukraine, and the LGBTQ+ refugees that joined the participants at this year’s event.
What was it like being back in person after three years away?
There was a lot of pent-up excitement to see each other again, to be in the unique environment of being surrounded by other queer leaders in a truly safe place and to make lifelong friends. It was an opportunity to reflect on the wins and losses of our community over the last couple of years and to welcome new Alliance members, with one third of attendees being new to the community this year.
What was different about this year’s meeting?
For one thing, the diversity. Forty percent of participants were people of color, and we saw increases in gender and geographic diversity as well. Nearly one in five 2022 summit members were Black queer individuals, which didn’t happen in past Alliances. These Black gay men, women, and gender non-conforming folks of diverse sexualities kept saying, “This is special.” We worked hard on increasing diversity, so that was rewarding.
What messages did participants from high-risk geographies share?
One speaker from Ukraine talked about the displacement happening there. It’s a different experience for queer people. Basic necessities and medication have become hard to come by, transgender women with a male marker on documents are barred from leaving Ukraine, and in order to leave, a person needs to undergo a lengthy and sometimes humiliating process to be removed from the military register.
The issues facing queer people are radically different around the world, and many in The Alliance, myself included, thought “I knew that this was happening. But I didn’t know the gravity, and how I could support people.” The hope is that folks will take this awareness back to their organizations and communities and be advocates when they can.
Participants got to meet LGBTQ+ refugees, people who resettled in Athens to escape persecution at home. What was that like?
Alliance members, McKinsey colleagues, and queer refugees all had lunch together—it was great. The refugees asked questions about our careers and how we got to where we are, and we gained insight into their lives and experience. It reminded us why it’s so important to keep working, creating opportunities, and breaking down barriers.
The LGBTQ+ community is extremely diverse. How did you think about a program that would bring everyone together?
We doubled down on our commitment to bring visibility to a variety of critical, top of mind issues. In addition to focusing on high-risk geographies, we also talked about transgender and non-binary inclusion in the workplace and intersectional identities. While there were of course differences in experience, there was much commonality. Participants shared stories of coming out, of having to hide their queerness, and of being at an intersection that negatively impacted their career advancement. And people were very open, honest, and willing to share. It was a beautiful thing.
Finally, what did you see as the biggest impact to come out of the meeting this year?
There were many great takeaways, but the sense people that people don’t have to go it alone was the most impactful. There are partners around the world for them to work with, commiserate with, celebrate with. Attendees engaged with nearly 100 senior peers from multiple sectors, all committed to LGBTQ+ inclusion and the path to equity for our community. After the pandemic’s isolation, that was worth everything.