“You are welcome, exactly as you are.” How to create a truly inclusive workplace

Karolina Gruszczyk

 · 06/27/2022  · 06/27/2022

Even though the topic of diversity and inclusion has been part of the business agenda for quite a while, there’s still a lot that organisations can (and should) do to support their employees. Everyone deserves to work in a place where they can truly be themselves.

“People do their best work when they feel part of the team, welcomed as they are and encouraged to be authentic” — that’s only one sentence of this insightful conversation we had with Michelle Cotter, our Sales Manager for Finland and Chair of Revolut’s LGBTQ+ Guild. Michelle shared with us her personal experiences, thoughts on why and how organisations should create inclusive workplaces, and best practices which we’re implementing at Revolut.

You're the newly announced Chair of the Pride at Revolut! Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you get involved in the Guild activity? And what made you decide to step ahead and lead the group?

I’m originally from the west of Ireland and joined Revolut in December 2021. I’ve been in the tech sector for almost a decade now and first started to get involved in Pride related workplace initiatives a few years back in a previous company. The reason I first got involved was seeing the positive impact my colleagues were making. And I’m not talking only about Pride initiatives, but also other groups working on important equality related topics such as: women in business, people of colour, people with different disabilities. Seeing the tangible impact in-house when I was working there motivated me to take up a leadership role in the Pride Guild and I really loved it and learned so much!

When I started at Revolut, I knew I was joining a startup where structure is constantly being built and not necessarily pre-existing. I knew Revolut was hiring people who were eager to get stuck into different initiatives and help Revolut grow in the best way possible, not only from a business perspective but also from a company culture perspective.

Getting involved in the Pride Guild started by simply reaching out and saying hello. I introduced myself to those who were already involved in D&I initiatives. And it was timely, as they were looking for leaders for Revolut’s employee resource groups, which we call guilds.

I am really hoping I’ll be able to share my experience with this company that is really growing and still has some very fresh initiatives.

What is the Guild actually? Who are the members? What’s the group mission?

Guilds are the space for communities that they support, as well as opportunities for allies to get involved, build community and learn about how to support the group. Anyone can be an ally, regardless of their identity, and a focus on intersectionality can result in many employees being members of multiple groups.

Revolut has a number of guilds: REACH, Parents & Carers, Wellbeing, Women, and of course the one I’m leading now: Pride.

With Pride, it all started a couple of years ago quite organically and there were a number of initiatives that took place internally. But it was 2021 when Pride at Revolut had a big kick off! We launched our first internal and external LGBTQ+ campaigns!

It is amazing to work in a place where even products are inclusive. Not only for LGBTQ+ community but our app in general is user friendly, has this great UX experience and answers customers needs. For us it is important that people can order our rainbow card, turn their Revolut app rainbow with our new Pride app icon, or donate to ILGA-Europe through the app.

The mission of Pride Guild is to ensure that Revolut is a positive, inclusive, authentic workplace and to make sure that everyone can be themselves in the workplace.

We are here to make sure that management and employees work together toward common goals and that our benefit package includes LGBTQ+ community.

There is also a bit of formal work — to make sure the company has inclusive regulations: like anti-bullying, parental leave and transitioning in workplace policies. The scope is wide and I would sum up it with a sentence I heard from a former colleague:

The ultimate goal of a Pride employee resource group is to not need a Pride employee resource group.

It really resonated with me. Our goal is to build such an inclusive workplace globally that there is no need to have a Pride Guild!

What are the biggest challenges LGBTQ+ community members face in the workplace?

In my opinion, it’s a fear of being authentic. A fear of being othered, just for being yourself.

I had a taste of that in my first corporate role out of college. I was working in quite a conservative office environment, and my time there overlapped with the marriage equality referendum in Ireland. Many of my colleagues would talk quite openly about their opposing beliefs towards same sex marriage. I was quite young at that moment and had no experience in a corporate workplace and to put it simply: I was scared to be my authentic self. I was afraid of not being respected. Of being treated differently, and it would ruin my relationships internally with colleagues, or would even affect my job. It's our responsibility as employers, especially when you have a workforce of several thousand, to make sure such situations do not happen. We have to make sure we put policies in place and company culture in place that tells you: you’re welcome, exactly as you are.

People do their best work when they feel part of the team, welcomed as they are, and encouraged to be authentic.

How can organisations ensure they’re inclusive and supportive for their LGBTQ+ employees?

Honestly the most obvious thing is just to say it. To nail your colours to the mast. Be vocal and consistent in your support for LGBTQ+ rights. Openly support diversity and inclusion through any avenue possible.

The second thing is to support equal rights not only inside the workplace but also outworldly. We hire employees in countries where the LGBTQ+ community is discriminated against. We’ve got the opportunity to contribute towards making a difference.  

It’s not going to be one single individual, or one single company that tips the scales, but combined we really can make a difference. And this is what happened in Ireland - a traditionally religious conservative state completely flipped the switch and embraced same sex marriage. And it didn't happen because a person in the leadership position said so, but because the people said so. We voted. It was in the people's hands.

Being vocal and not doing things just because they are popular, putting firm policies in place supporting LGBTQ+ employees - these are simple steps every company should be taking.

We have the Pride Guild at Revolut because we believe that an inclusive working environment enables everyone to realise their full potential.

How do you see the Guild’s activity in the future? What are your plans?

One of our very first steps will be to boost activity. As they say, done is better than perfect — if we want to build a perfect activity or perfect event we would probably work on it till Christmas. And we want to act fast and quickly to kick off engagement with small but important activities! Lots of fun stuff has a very big impact — quizzes, movie screenings, book clubs, mentorship programs, all those activities are great opportunities for us to highlight the LGBTQ+ needs and also educate other employees and create engagement. And this engagement is super important as the majority of Revoluters work remotely and in lots of different geolocations. Not feeling so alone in front of the screen is really important,  even if this is a Slack message or movie recommendation.

We’ve also for the very first time taken part in the New York Pride as a company, and the entire organisation has been celebrating Pride Month with themed parties all over the world. There’ve been panel discussions, contests and many more!

All those things have small incremental benefits for our Revoluters and make us feel we are part of a team. Because we are!

The last important thing I want to highlight is that while I took on the Pride Guild leadership role I’m certainly not the only one with ideas. It takes a team of people to get these initiatives off the ground. I don’t want people to see it as a one-person job, it certainly isn't. There are amazing people around me. We're going to have the first committee meeting very soon and I have no doubt we’ll come up with some great ideas and a fantastic strategy for the Revolut Pride Guild.