100 leaders commit to advancing LGBTQ+ diversity

On a brisk March evening in 1995, in Washington DC, 14 colleagues gather at the home of a McKinsey partner. Their objective: to build a community and network within the firm to support LGBTQ colleagues, and to help the firm address barriers to recruitment, inclusion, and advancement of this underrepresented community.

Fast forward to 2018. This group has become Equal at McKinsey, a vibrant global network of more than 600 colleagues, with a community of supporting “allies” in excess of 3,000.

This month McKinsey marked another milestone in our journey to advance inclusion and diversity for the LGBTQ community, when we convened the inaugural meeting of The Alliance, in Lisbon, Portugal.

The conference brought together more than 115 private-, public-, and social-sector LGBTQ leaders from 19 countries to discuss the inclusion and diversity agenda not just on a personal level and in their organizations but also in work and society more broadly.

Diana Ellsworth, a partner based in our Atlanta office, was part of the 20-strong team at McKinsey behind The Alliance.

“We all know that individuals from the LGBTQ community can face barriers—sometimes visible, sometimes invisible—in life and in work,” says Diana. “Many organizations are already trying to promote inclusion and diversity. But it is surprising how many people, still today, are ‘out’ in their personal lives but not at work.”

Three years ago, McKinsey started to run executive master classes to help groups of newly hired or promoted senior executives from the LGBTQ community thrive in their new roles.

“The Alliance was an idea that came from the alumni of our master classes,” he explains. “Participants were keenly interested in doing something beyond the individual level—they wanted to come together as a broader community to effect change.”

One hundred leaders commit to advancing LGBTQ diversity
Participants at the inaugural meeting of The Alliance worked together and agreed an ambitious agenda for action.
One hundred leaders commit to advancing LGBTQ diversity

The Lisbon agenda kicked off with a review of insights about the 455 million–strong LGBTQ community globally. Only 27 percent of this number self-identify, for reasons including social pressure or legal constraints. Research suggests that these often closeted lifestyles lead to poor-mental-health outcomes for LGBTQ individuals, with increased risks of suicide, substance abuse, and eating disorders compared with straight counterparts.

Leaders who shared stories of their personal journeys and discussed the issues facing the LGBTQ community included Patrick McLaughlin, chief human resources officer at PepsiCo Frito-Lay, Amy Taylor, president and chief marketing officer at Red Bull North America, and Katrin Suder, former state secretary at Germany’s ministry of defense.

One emerging theme from the discussions was the lack of evidence about LGBTQ inclusion in work and society. Because of the nature and complexity of self-identifying, accurately measuring the community and drawing meaningful conclusions is challenging.

There can be no glass ceilings, no glass closets.

Kevin Sneader, McKinsey’s global managing partner, took part in The Alliance.

“I believe in our research that says that more inclusivity and more diversity is better,” said Kevin, speaking in Lisbon. “There can be no glass ceilings, no glass closets. The business case is clear for ethnic and gender diversity, and having it is correlated with success, but we don’t have the data for the LGBTQ community. We need it.”

“Today I sat down with a group of people from around the world, from many different sectors, from manufacturing to banking to consumer goods. Hearing them talk about how we can make a difference to the broader community was incredibly inspiring.”

Delegates at The Alliance sought out best practices to bring to their institutions. “There were some really smart and creative minds in the room, and there were a lot of ideas—for example, about mentoring, sponsorship, and role modeling—that I can take back to my organization to push inclusion forward,” one noted.

At this inaugural meeting, one of the objectives was to set aspirations for The Alliance going forward. Reflecting the sense of opportunity that members felt to “move the needle” on LGBTQ inclusion, they agreed to an ambitious agenda.

Members plan to strengthen the network, building connections among LGBTQ leaders in business, academia, and the social and public sectors. They committed to advancing civil rights in regions with low acceptance, encouraging inclusion through institutions. Finally, participants hope to focus on helping LGBTQ youth thrive in educational settings, the workplace, and in their personal lives.

“There was so much energy in the room,” added Diana. “Each of the participants came to Lisbon with a clear mission to turn a group of individuals into an action-oriented and ambitious organization. It was exciting to see how motivated everyone was to be part of creating The Alliance.”

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