To kick off pride month, Broadgate’s Josh Duggan caught up with Geffrye Parsons, Founder and CEO (Chief Empathy Officer) at The Inclusion Imperative. A veteran of the financial services industry, Geff is a change-maker, a staunch advocate for workplace equity, and for some, a troublemaker.
Geff has been committed to diversity and inclusion since before it was called D&I, his unique journey through financial services serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.
Thanks to advocates, allies, D&I champions, and activists just like Geff, positive change is always possible. Broadgate is passionate about empowering thought leaders, and conversations just like this represent the perfect opportunity to share knowledge, learn, and amplify the voices of those inside the D&I space.
What first drew me to Trinnovo Group was that they were so vocal about being diverse and promoting diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging. This is my first role in recruitment, and it was amazing to find a company that was actually holding itself accountable for what it was doing and saying. It was important to find a place that was accepting and loud and proud about it. That’s a bit about me, I’d love to hear a bit about you.
Let me give you a quick lowdown; I qualified as a chartered accountant in London back in 1990, and I switched over to banking. I effectively walked away from financial services early last year; I thought 35 years of that was enough.
While I was still working in financial services, for the last 12 years or so, I spent a lot of time doing the D&I side-of-desk, especially LGBTQ+ inclusion. I was always known as that troublemaker, although I prefer change-maker, I was certainly more of a troublemaker for some people, always yelling for women's rights and minority rights, as well as the LGBTQ+ community.
I think it became very clear to me in the last five years or so that D&I is what I enjoyed doing more than my day job. My mic drop moment came after having taken Macquarie to the top of the Stonewall rankings. I wanted to just go out on my own and focus on consulting around D&I and helping other organisations progress on their inclusion journeys.
As a voice for the LGBTQ+ community, has it been smooth sailing throughout your career? What kind of challenges have you faced?
A year after I graduated from uni (I'd spent a year sort of mucking around), I started working at a medium-sized chartered accounting practice in Piccadilly in London; 15 of us were recruited to start on the same day, and we were ALL white, cisgender men, with no exception.
Where was the diversity? I wouldn't even have thought about where the gays were at the time because I wasn't out myself.
It was about recruiting to fit the mould, not recruiting for any kind of development, or for realising the power of difference. I have worked in places that were amazingly misogynistic,
casually racist, sexist, and very old school. I turned the mirror on myself and concluded that I didn’t want to stay on that path, even if it meant missing out on the next step up, which for me would have to partnership level.
It has been a really bumpy ride, but it's been worth it because it’s heartening to have been able to make a difference.
Do you remember the first time you had a new job where you thought, ‘This is the time I’m going to come out in the workplace?’
It was on day one at Macquarie, although I had already been out on a more limited basis at BNP Paribas as I’d co-founded the LGBTQ+ network there. I was partly out at a previous job in the Netherlands, mainly because my immediate boss was also gay, which made it easier to grasp that particular nettle.
At Macquarie, I made it clear during the recruitment process, and it worked well for them because they had set up their own network just a few months beforehand.
This was a very hot topic at our latest Pride in Tech. Should CVs and candidate interview process be completely anonymised, or should it be the opposite and we do a full candidate profile where you are speaking up about your identity? These were two very polarising opinions. I went into my interview for this job and just said, ‘I am an out and proud gay man, and it’s very important to me.’
I do think it’s important we should be able to do that, but you have to be practical – not every organisation is up for that. If companies aren’t receptive, my response would be, ‘Why are you considering working at a place like that?’ You should be able to be open because it is part of who you are, and any organisation that values difference, which should be every organisation, should celebrate that. Your experience, be it through the lens of your identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community or any other perspective, should be something companies mine for value rather than run away from.
Do you think there's anything that we can do moving forward to change the interview process to make it more inclusive?
Inclusion needs to be part of the whole lifecycle; it's the first thing to consider even before you get to the interview process. Conversations around recruitment should be more inclusive; the human side of the discussion is just as important as the job discussion.
Everyone should be trained, not just the recruiters or people in HR, but everybody involved in the process. You shouldn't have to pretend that you're something that you are not, and what is important to you should be clear.
If an interview cohort all represents a singular characteristic, we have to ask why? Are we looking in the right places? How come nobody else applied? It’s important to make organisations understand that they’re missing a trick.
What was your management style?
I always tried to work horizontally within teams. The style was always collaborative; I would hate being told what to do as opposed to being led by example; it’s something you always tend to resent.
As a leader, you should always have those inclusive conversations, and initiate them too. Everybody must have a platform to speak on when it’s appropriate for them, and it doesn’t mean everyone wants equal airtime. Not everyone is an extrovert and some people prefer to get their points across bilaterally in a quiet conversation.
You don’t want to always go to the loudest voice in the room. As a leader, you’ve got to make an effort to neutralise that bias. That’s the difference between leadership and management – management is clerical, and leadership looks at how the job best gets done and how the people doing the job are looked after.
What does pride month mean to you?
Pride month for me is a real booster. Getting organisations to get their internal house in order and then turn the focus outwards as champions of change is what I'm all about. Pride Month is a massive booster for that.
Organisations have brand value, reach, influence, wherewithal, and resources, and ultimately people will listen to them and they will outlive nearly every political creed anyway, so they are the other real agents of change.
If we can filter out all of the inevitable rainbow washing and the empty colouring of logos on the high street into rainbows, we still have the opportunity to get people's attention, and we need to make use of it.
Of course, we have to celebrate where we've come from, but it's still a protest; it always was.