by Nicole Gardner
Oliver Wyman is a meritocracy – of people and of ideas – but that positioning is silent on LGBT issues. To move the global consulting firm from a difference-blind and passively accepting culture to an actively welcoming one, members of Gays and Lesbians at Oliver Wyman (GLOW) recently met with the firm’s management committee members for two-hour reverse mentoring sessions to discuss the experience of coming out at work, both in the office and at the client site. The discussion was confidential, and no topics were off limits; it was a safe environment for our leaders to learn, without fear of giving offense or being perceived as prying.
“All the reverse mentoring participants indicate that the process has changed the way they act and the way that they lead.”
The feedback from the C-suite and GLOW members was uniformly positive. Hearing that our pure meritocracy positioning in the talent market actually connoted “don’t ask, don’t tell” was particularly eye-opening to COO Alan McIntyre, who wrote to the firm:
Many of us who are straight see LGBT issues mostly in reactive terms. A whole series of “don’ts” that we perceive as tolerance, with the central premise being “do no harm.” One of the things that I took away from the reverse mentoring session was that this perception can be asymmetrical. For the LGBT community, the absence of prejudice is not the same as creating a safe and welcoming environment where colleagues are comfortable being out…. The LGBT community is sensitive to nuances in language and messaging that the straight community may not even notice, and we can turn that sensitivity to our advantage by continuing to send affirming and supportive messages that Oliver Wyman is a safe and welcoming environment and that we are committed to diversity and inclusion…. The struggle for equal treatment for the LGBT community still has a long way to go, and Oliver Wyman can make a contribution to that struggle by helping to address issues of equal treatment in the workplace and by visibly supporting the LGBT community as it tries to level the playing field.
All the reverse mentoring participants indicate that the process has changed the way they act and the way that they lead. GLOW member and New York office head Dan Gettings adds: Reverse mentoring has noticeably accelerated the firm’s pace of change and acceptance of the LGBT community at Oliver Wyman. Even the simple message that our senior leaders think LGBT engagement is important enough to take time out of their day for it is important.
What’s next? We are working with our global training team to cascade the reverse mentoring experience down to the next level of leadership, our partner group. Helping our partners understand what it means to be out and LGBT at Oliver Wyman will move the discussion from the boardroom to project teams and client sites – where the business of our firm is done and where consulting careers are made.
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Nicole Gardner is a partner of Oliver Wyman, leader of the firm’s general consulting group, and executive sponsor of GLOW.