There is a delicious irony that the title of the one Culture Club song I actively dislike is so apt for my first ever blog for LBWomen.
But perfect it is for this tale of two parts, starting with the professional stuff.
The majority of my career has been spent as a strategic communications consultant, specialising latterly at FTI Consulting advising real estate organisations on how to communicate with their stakeholders. Looking back now, having taken a three-year career break to establish a new charity, I can safely say that the most important characteristic of a good consultant is the ability to absorb and to adapt while maintaining a vital objectivity. Clients want to feel that you truly understand and, indeed, are part of their organisation – but they pay you precisely for your ability to stand back and use your expert insight to come up with specific solutions. The parallel, therefore, with a chameleon is a useful one: a chameleon’s ability to change colour translates into a consultant’s seamless blend into a number of businesses or scenarios; while its independently rotating eyes symbolise the requirement to be all-seeing, all-knowing and prepared to react quickly in order to come up with best in class, relevant counsel.
And what about karma in the professional sense? I fight against using the word authentic, as it has become so over-used, so I will go with the truth. I truly believe that clients stayed with us because we genuinely understood their sector. When we pitched for new business and said we had relevant experience, it was demonstrably true. We lived and breathed their business; we fought alongside our clients to enhance their reputation and performance; we were in, not just on, their team and, if something needed to be said, however difficult, we would say it. With the result that clients stuck with us for years – even decades.
Personally speaking, however, the only exception to this truth was my own. I convinced myself – then – that it suited me to apply that chameleon rule by blurring my sexuality with clients, telling myself (a) it was nobody’s business who I slept with and (b) that the real estate sector was so dominated by men that it was helpful to ‘play’ the hetero game to ‘get along’, forgetting how awkward and energy-sapping (and bloody obvious!) it was to use non-gender specific words to describe my partner. This justification then continued when I started working with a charity which taught in South Africa and India where being gay could prove dangerous – or illegal – or both.
So, it was only when I joined LBWomen as an Ambassador last October, that I was finally able to say that I am an out and proud woman. In so doing, I can only apologise to the woman at FTI who sent me a note after I left to thank me for being her secret, gay role model and say I wish I had done it sooner. While to those clients and co-advisers who have picked up on my recent move and want to welcome me back to my old life – thank you. I just wish I had trusted you (and myself) with the whole truth sooner.
This is why LBWomen has such an important part to play in our lives and careers – we must absolutely celebrate each other, our achievements and our community openly, loudly and proudly and not waste any more time not being true to ourselves and everyone around us.