It was a wintery day seven years ago when I moved to New York City from my home in the Philippines. I was excited to start my new job at Grant Thornton, but I was cold, homesick for my family, and feeling overwhelmed about making friends and settling in at an apartment and at work. There was so much to adjust to. I wasn’t sure my decision had been a good one.
Over time I came to see that my decision had been a very good one. Some factors that helped were the arrival of summer, many phone calls and some visits home, great new friendships and supportive co-workers.
Work itself was immediately engaging. I enjoyed learning Grant Thornton’s audit methodology and applying it in my audit engagements. After years of continued professional growth, I advanced to my current position as manager in the firm’s Audit Services practice.
My office leaders and colleagues were helpful from the start. They pitched in to get me acclimated to my job and NYC, working alongside me on projects and advising me on commuting. When I became seriously ill in the first year, they took great care to make sure I could go on a two-month recuperation stay in the Philippines with encouragement to return when I was well.
Staying close to my family is important to me, so I visit my family in the Philippines every year for two to three weeks. Leadership has always been understanding about this. And the firm’s introduction of flexible time off makes it even easier to structure a personal life.
Being true to myself
All was well for the first few years…except that I wasn’t being completely genuine. There was a huge part of my life that I kept to myself. Even my family and closest friends didn’t know I am gay. This meant I was always watching what I said, making sure I didn’t slip and reveal clues. When someone would ask me what I did over the weekend, I’d reply that I Skyped with my girlfriend in the Philippines. But in reality it was with my boyfriend. I felt badly about not being honest with co-workers, or with myself. It was a struggle. I was always working hard to fit in, along with doing my job.
All was well…except that I wasn’t being genuine.
It was so wearing that I had to find relief in at least one aspect of my life. One New Year’s Day, I came out to my closest friends. I was scared I’d lose them, but thankfully they responded positively. Since then, our friendships have been closer because our conversations are more open. I can tell them about my dating experiences, and they can offer real relationship advice. Most importantly, I’m comfortable with their really knowing me.
About that time, Grant Thornton’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) team sent out an email about conferences the firm was sponsoring. One was the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, an annual conference for LGBT professionals. I had another decision in front of me.
It had become obvious to me that the firm’s culture was progressive and affirming. People are very accepting of differences. Knowing that and having had the experience of coming out to my friends, I signed up for the conference. It was the beginning of the statement I needed to make.
At the conference I met amazing people from Grant Thornton who were either LGBT or allies. It was inspiring to hear their stories and how they overcame challenges. We had learned in the conference that for a business resource group (BRG) to be successful, there must be, in addition to LGBT members, a significant representation of allies. Their names and numbers empower other members. I got busy with recruitment and spearheaded a pride event. I also became the leader of our N.Y.-area BRG — Equality GT
I could be honest about who I am and my partner Ben.
By this time I was visible as a gay professional. I had come out to my co-workers, and my relationship with them was changed for the better by far. I was able to introduce my partner. I could tell them what I actually did over the weekend. My work improved significantly because the pressure I had put on myself was gone. I could be honest about who I am.
Grant Thornton has a clear reputation as an LGBT-friendly workplace. The firm’s benefits are the same for LGBT employees as for those who are heterosexual. Insurance and paid family leaves are available for domestic partners and same-sex spouses. The firm makes its openness publicly known, with branding and participation in activities and conferences like the Out & Equal Workplace Summit.
As Equality GT was getting established, the Grant Thornton allies who support Equality GT co-hosted an office mixer. It was encouraging to see many leaders and co-workers attending our BRG “coming-out” party. We had informative materials — a D&I brochure, safe-space manual, etc. But the event was more for connecting and for sharing what Equality GT offers, such as monthly calls to discuss topics of work and personal life.
Our senior leadership shows its support by showing up at important times. After the Orlando shooting in a gay bar, CEO Mike McGuire and a top partner spoke on a call that had been quickly set up by Equality GT. We all appreciated hearing their concerned voices. On a celebratory day, Mike travelled to North Carolina and made his way through the crowds to be at the Charlotte Pride Parade.
Our senior leadership — including CEO Mike McGuire — shows its support by showing up at important times.
At Grant Thornton I am following a clear leadership path. In a preview of my next level, I was asked to identify my personal brand. My answer was Prioritizing equality
. It’s an important way to contribute to our competitiveness; increasingly, prospective clients expect diversity in the firms that serve them.
My life is enriched by Grant Thornton’s valuation of individuals and investment in diversity. It is proof that working genuinely is priceless.
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