BCG & GiveOut's Elliot Vaughn targets full LGBT inclusivity in consulting

19 July 2018 Authored by Consultancy.uk

Elliot Vaughn has worked with consultancies for almost two decades – including almost 13 years spent with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where he is now a Partner & Managing Director. In an exclusive interview with Consultancy.uk, Vaughn, who now serves on the global leadership of BCG’s LGBT network, Pride@BCG, explained how things have improved for the LGBT community over the course of his career, and where change is still needed.

Following decades of struggle, the UK is broadly thought to be an LGBT+ friendly nation. While pockets of resistance to the civil rights movement of community do remain – most notably in Northern Ireland, where special provisions mean gay marriage is still not legally recognised – the UK is a world leader, as part of the 25 states which allow for marriage equality at time of writing.

Despite this progress, there remains a great deal of work to be done in the business world, in the pursuit of equality. LGBT+ employees who are ‘in the closet’ are 70% more likely to leave a company within the first three years, while 85% of those responding to a survey by the OUTstanding network said non-inclusive workplaces have a negative impact on employees and can damage productivity.

For a long time, BCG has been one of the companies at the forefront of the struggle to change that. BCG has made sustained efforts to become an inclusive company over the past two decades, launching networks including Women@BCG, Family@BCG, each championing diversity internally, along with Pride@BCG, which is celebrating its 20th year in 2018. Since its 1998 origin, BCG’s Pride wing has grown to over 500 members across 50 of its global offices, with more than 40 of those the UK, along with many more allies.

GiveOut trustees and staff team with Baroness Barker at their launch event

According to Elliot Vaughn – who in 2017 was named one of 15 leading LGBT role models in the consulting industry – while diversity and inclusion have long been a key priority for BCG, it is particularly encouraging to see how the topic is now a staple of many CEOs’ agendas. He cited the help of organisations such as OUTstanding, an LGBT membership organisation for global businesses companies, as having helped businesses increasingly celebrate the positive role models and allies of the LGBT community in the business world; something Vaughn calls huge progress.

When asked if there are any aspects of life in the British consulting industry as a whole that could be improved to better include LGBT staff, Vaughn reiterated that more can still be done to encourage people to be comfortable in their own skin at work. According to multiple surveys of undergraduates, more than a fifth of UK students identify as being somewhere on the LGBT spectrum, leaving Vaughn pondering whether the business community might be some way from capturing that ‘full spectrum’ in how it involves people.

He added, “My personal view is that life’s too short to show up at work without being yourself, and yet we know many people find themselves covering up parts of themselves in small or big ways every day at work… Thinking back to my own undergraduate years in the 1990s this tells me there may be a hugely positive shift underway in society… I feel passionate to make sure that we do.”

Vaughn’s passion extends well beyond the shores of the UK, however. Of the £5 million donated by UK individuals to LGBT causes, a massive 97% is spent in the UK. A sparse £150,000, therefore, makes its way beyond the nation’s borders, to support organisations and international NGOs dedicated to supporting LGBT+ rights in nations where they are totally non-existent, including the 57 nation states which could imprison individuals for up to 14 years, or the eight states which still implement the death penalty for homosexuality. In response to this, in 2017, Elliot Vaughn launched GiveOut – an organisation aimed at redistributing donations from the British LGBT community to more hostile locations across the world – which he remains Chair of the Board for.

Ultimately, Vaughn asserted that GiveOut’s key aim is to grow the pie of donations for the movement, rather than simply compete for its own slice of that £5 million figure. However, while the group is still in its early days, Vaughn believes the project has made important strides forward over its brief six months of life.

“Life’s too short to show up at work without being yourself, and yet we know many people find themselves covering up parts of themselves in small or big ways every day at work.”
– Elliot Vaughn, BCG Partner

He said, “We’ve started creating more visibility of this cause with donors through a soft launch and in-person briefings, as well as on social media and through some excellent media coverage. We’ve also started to make some test grants – to activists in Swaziland, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Southeast Asia – which means we’re starting to bring to life the impact even comparatively small grants (c. £5,000-10,000 each) can have.”

BCG support

Vaughn added that as these test grants begin to yield results, there is significant potential to grow the number of corporates supporting GiveOut’s projects financially. BCG was a founding sponsor of GiveOut, and has continued to be “hugely supportive” of its launch, according to the BCG Partner.

GiveOut is deepening its links with BCG’s staff.  Rupert Abbott, GiveOut’s Executive Director took part in the group’s latest Pride@BCG conference in Madrid, while some of the firm’s offices are beginning to ask how they can help to raise funds for the charity, as well as provide pro bono consulting support.

“The good will and practical support has been huge,” he said. “The firm has helped both financially, as a founding corporate sponsor, and promotionally, helping us get the word out about the charity,” Vaughn added.

Thanks in part to this championing and getting the word out, while the charity launched too recently to play a formal role at Pride 2018, which took place in early July, the group has already received a great deal of recognition from the LGBT community. According to Vaughn, this has included support from LGBT parliamentarians like Nick Herbert, Michael Cashman, and Liz Barker, as well as civil society organisations including the Kaleidoscope Trust, OutRight and ILGA, LGBT media such as Pink News, along with LGBT advocates themselves.

Rupert Abbott (GiveOut) and Elliot Vaughn meet Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black

Commenting on the excellent response to the initiative, Vaughn enthused, “We’ve been bowled over by the interest and support to help us build GiveOut and bring new resources into the global LGBTQI human rights movement.”

One area which Vaughn believes is in particular need of such support is the Trans movement. The Trans community is perhaps still faces notable prejudices, even within the LGBT movement itself, as was demonstrated by events at this year’s London Pride Parade – which was “hijacked” by anti-trans campaigners who forced their way to the front of the march.

In relation to Trans rights in the workplace, Vaughn said, “I think we have a way to go before we can say we’ve truly created an inclusive environment for Trans people. Even with the best intentions there can be a tendency to wait for staff or applicants to identify themselves before making positive adjustments to create an inclusive environment and this is something I’m passionate to put a focus on in the coming years.”

To this end, GiveOut recently launched a brand new fund to support Trans activism globally, sponsored by Trans businesswoman Antonia Belcher – someone the Financial Times once called one of the most influential figures in the LGBTQ+ business community – and her wife Andrea. Enlisting such high profile names is a win-win, according to Vaughn, as it not only boosts the notoriety of GiveOut, but helps state the importance of Trans rights across the world at this moment.

He stated that the Antonia and Andrea Belcher Trans Fund provides an opportunity for businesses and individuals to show their thanks to Belcher and support her in a very meaningful way, and has already received several donations. Vaughn added, “Antonia does so much for the community in raising awareness – for example, she has given many speeches about her journey in the past two years and has used her position in business to be a role model and mentor for the Trans community and allies.”

Other efforts to promote the Trans cause and global efforts of LGBT campaigners as a whole in the group include three new trustees of GiveOut. Rachel Reese of Global Butterflies brings both a deep experience working with law firms on diversity and inclusion, as well as bringing a Trans perspective to the board. Meanwhile Iain Anderson is Executive Chairman of Cicero Group, the leading independent City PR firm; Wanja Muguongo is Executive Director of UHAI, the leading regional LGBTQI organisation in East Africa with deep experience in grant-making.

Antonia Belcher and Elliot Vaughn

On top of this, the charity is launching another new special fund, in collaboration with Suki Sandhu, a prominent role model in the UK LGBT community and a successful business person. The Suki Sandhu LGBT Asia Fund will support activists working across Asia.

Towards inclusivity

Returning to the topic of BCG, and the consulting industry, Vaughn was keen to state that work is still to be done, and that BCG is similarly committed to avoiding complacency, despite its reputation for LGBT support. The firm has scored a perfect score as a top place to work for LGBT Equality for 10 successive years from the HRC (Human Rights Campaign).

In spite of this, BCG is acutely aware that as a high growth business finding and retaining the very best talent and help them reach their full potential is critical. As a result, diversity remains something the firm is keen to better itself on, with a major part of the Pride@BCG network's efforts now focusing on recruitment, on-boarding, mentorship and personal development.

Commenting on the need to improve inclusivity, even at a firm with BCG’s record, Vaughn said, “While our own networks have grown rapidly, I still notice that new joiners often take their time before coming out in the consulting world, especially to clients.  In fact, BCG research across industries last year found that 20% of young professionals in the UK choose not to come out, and a third of them will avoid mentioning the gender of their partner when making small-talk. So there needs to be a continued process of helping people feel secure in being as out as they want to be in the workplace.”

He added that the firm will remain on the front-foot for the foreseeable future, as “there is no shortage of opportunities for us to have more impact.” Vaughn concluded, “Internally [BCG] continues to push in countries where it’s harder to be LGBT and also on lesbian, bi and Trans visibility. Allies are incredibly valuable in helping us make progress. We are also engaging more and more with our clients with actionable research and support to help them become more diverse and inclusive, which is a top five priority for CEOs.”

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