Pride Month comes around once a year, and it is a great time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, acknowledge and appreciate the advances that are being made towards equality and equity in this space. As Pride Month has just drawn to an end, the Young MCA wanted to have a glimpse into the life of a Management Consultant who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and as a by-product, we wanted to find out, from their personal experiences, what behaviours, and actions could we implement in order to be effective allies.
We (virtually) sat down and had a chat with North Highland’s Ellie Taylor (Strategy Consultant | she, her, hers | Gay Woman), who was gracious enough to give us some of her free time but also showed lots of vulnerability as she shared her experiences in and outside of work, interwoven with lots of great tips for everyone when it comes to our D&I agendas.
This article was written by the Young MCA’s Vice-Chairs for Diversity & Inclusion. If you’d like to discuss further or have any ideas to share, feel free to reach out to Rob Amissah, Sam Bonfield and Lenka Bellova
Tell us a bit about your professional experience. Where do you work? What do you do? How did you get here?
I started off at a boutique sports consultancy as a Strategy Consultant and was there for four and a half years. It was a company of around 30 people & based in London. I loved working in that kind of environment – a small company where you got involved in absolutely everything from scoping, proposals, business development through to delivery.
I thought I wanted a bit of a change, a bit of a new challenge, so about a year and a half ago, I moved to North Highland, which is a change management consultancy. I am a Consultant working largely within the strategy capability, currently on a public sector project, so it’s interesting learning about central government life.
Since joining North Highland, quite early on, I’ve become the Co-Pride lead in the UK and the US, so I’ve been pretty visible in terms of my identity.
Tell us a bit about your personal upbringing
I was born in Wales but raised in Lancashire. I was raised by my mother and father, and I have a younger sister and brother. I grew up pretty rurally, very field-like, which was great! Lots of freedom, so coming to London felt like moving to another country.
I went to University in Durham, which again, is a small town, and isn’t super diverse, so that was an interesting experience. I wasn’t out when I was in university at all and wasn’t out at school. I just thought I was different but didn’t think too much about it, but apparently everyone else knew about it! I lived like every other student but definitely didn’t feel comfortable coming out, I had a boyfriend at the time.
When did you eventually come out and how was that experience?
It was in my final year when I kind of had dawning realizations and came out to my closest friends as a gay woman, and that took a long time – I wasn’t particularly happy about it at the time… it wasn’t the easiest of rides.
At that time I just wasn’t comfortable with it all, but then when I was moving to London I kind of drew a line: everyone I meet now I can be open with, it’s much easier to be open with people you’ve never met, rather than be like, “you know, disregard those other things that you thought about me.”
When initially starting out in the consulting industry was your acceptance as a member of the LGBTQ+ community a consideration that you made?
When I moved to London, at that time I was still figuring things out. I wasn’t particularly comfortable being out at work. I also didn’t have a serious partner, so I think it’s just more difficult to talk about if you don’t have almost “evidence” to refer to.
I had a lot of preconceptions in my own mind about not wanting to appear different or not wanting to bring it up because it didn’t feel relevant to work. However, now at North Highland I’ve decided to jump in with both feet and be as open as possible, especially considering the D&I structures that North Highland have. I know what it feels like to feel like [my sexual orientation] is something that I don’t need to, or shouldn’t be talking about at work.
I am open with clients and colleagues, and I think some of that is easier because I am engaged. It’s just part of my life. It does feel like I’m talking about it a lot, even though I’m probably talking about the same amount as somebody would talk about their boyfriend, but I do feel conscious of it. Quite a lot, which can be tiring.
What have you experienced in your professional career that has made you feel supported?
My experience being part of the Pride Alliance has been, I’d say, wholly positive. Just talking about it, talking about our lives, as people who identify as LGBTQ+, it’s a wonderful thing. [Being able to] host ally events and teach people who might be scared to ask questions, and make it feel more and more open as an environment, I think is wholly positive.
Have there been any negative experiences you have had in your professional career due to your sexual orientation and how did you react to it?
I remember when I was much younger, we were out on an overnight trip, a trip where alcohol was consumed. I was sat next to someone at dinner who was just deeply inappropriate and asked me inappropriate questions – I was really upset about it. Then the next Monday, I got into work and steeled myself [for a serious conversation with my boss]. I put a meeting in and had the discussion – I was really tense about it – I got into this meeting and said that that trip was horrendous, and got off my chest what had happened. My boss made sure that the person wrote me a letter and apology and that made me feel very supported.
How is the work you’re doing impacting others?
I am conscious that the vast majority of people are not in my position and might not feel that same sense of support and know where to go. This is a big part of the reason I’m trying to be as visible as possible: so that if other people have tough challenges, or like something that happened to me, that they would be able to know where to go and feel like they had an avenue.
What are some of the key learnings you’ve had during this time?
It is really nice to have a community of people who identify and for that safe space to exist. Some of the most impactful things that we’ve done as Pride Alliance has been what we call “Safe Zone” – almost being exclusive – if something has happened in the world, or even just like periodically, we would have host an event and if you identify, you can come along and we can talk about this and we can be honest and it’s not going to go outside.
Get as many people involved as possible – when you’re trying to host events, involve allies. They don’t need to identify. It doesn’t always need to be on the shoulders of people who identify as LGBTQ+. You can be an ally and plan a Pride event. That would definitely be one of my learnings: many hands make light work.