Bringing the rainbow back into Deloitte
By Stephen Russell
Robbie Robertson, a change-making design guru in the Deloitte Australia team and the senior exec sponsor for Sydney WorldPride and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, could hardly believe the joy he felt while marching shoulder-to-shoulder with his colleagues around the Sydney Cricket Ground during this year’s Mardi Gras Parade as thousands cheered them on.
“I was so full of emotion that I had tears running down my face,” he recalls, marvelling just how far we’ve come when it comes to supporting LGBTIQIA+ people in the last two decades. “Twenty-two years ago I was curled up on my kitchen floor feeling sick about going to work because I was a gay man. And here I was, walking around the SCG waving a flag representing my company. I’m just so proud of that.”
Growing up in Oban, a stunningly beautiful town hugging the West Coast of Scotland, Robertson insists he actually was the only gay in the village. Moving to London as a young man and discovering the joys of Soho after dark suggested a new way to live openly. Unfortunately, a colleague who spotted him there began to bully him at work on the basis of his sexuality. He wasn’t out at work, and there were terrible consequences for his mental health, leading to him curling up on that kitchen floor all those years ago.
“I was very depressed and unhappy, but I didn’t want to say anything to my boss,” he remembers. “Eventually, I was working late one night and he came over and asked, ‘What’s happened? You used to be so vibrant and happy?’ I broke down and said, ‘I’m gay,’ and he said, ‘Is that it?’”
That conversation changed everything. Robertson felt he could open up about the bullying and was immediately reassured it would be handled, and that he should take a couple of days off. When he returned to work, that colleague was gone and he was welcomed back by a team who insisted they had his back, that they didn’t care that he was gay and that they had always known anyway. It’s a kindness Robertson has always taken care to pay forward.
Moving to Sydney in 2004, he had planned to take a month off but hit the ground running. Eventually setting up his own design company MashUp, Deloitte was a regular client. Valuing his skillset, they bought his business and brought him into the fold full-time. Deloitte valued his individuality and wanted him to bring his way of moving through the world to work, including not having to wear a suit.
Finding a pride network page on the intranet, he emailed all four colleagues listed there. Sadly, they’d already left the business. “There was nobody, at that point, taking charge, so I decided let’s bring it to life again,” Robertson says.
Fast forward a few years and Deloitte’s employee pride network StandOUT is thriving once more, with Deloitte fielding enthusiastic representation at Mardi Gras. Robertson has also helped drive the company’s active support of next year’s WorldPride. The way he sees it, pride is all year round. “It’s absolutely about intersectionality and inclusion across the entire organisation. We want people to turn up to work and just be themselves. We need to encourage authenticity.”
That means ensuring all of Deloitte’s policies, procedures, leadership initiatives, training and grant programmes are LGBTIQA+ inclusive. “You know, 70% of the people marching around the SCG were allies, and many more called me about watching at home with their children and feeling that sense of pride in us all,” Robertson says of the supportive culture at work he’s focused on extending to all employees, their partners, family and friends.
“I was adamant about putting together the business case to secure funding and support not only the Australian firm, but also globally.”
Authenticity is key, and Robertson spearheaded a global research project on pink-washing to ensure that Deloitte’s support is meaningful and respectful. “We’ll be presenting the results at the Human Rights Conference as part of WorldPride next year, which is very exciting. We’re also going around all our key offices – in London, LA and New York – asking for their support so that their voice will be heard and they will be represented next March.”
Robertson wants to make sure that the next generation of Deloitte employees never faces a situation like he did. “We’re driving that message through our grads and our junior team members, making sure that they have a voice in how we structure our strategies going forward. They are our future leaders, and our job is to create a safe space for them to be themselves and to be successful.”
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