If you know yourself and look after yourself, you can fully be yourself

LGBTQ+ History Month Series: Board Member Sarah Weir talks about her own leadership journey as a lesbian and how she’s learned to be comfortable in her own skin.

When I was a baby leader, way back in the twentieth century, I was working in an almost exclusively male environment, with just 1% women. It was a time of everyday racism, sexism and homophobia. There was no Clore Leadership. I put myself onto a management course, much to my Chairman’s disdain. These were the days of ‘sink or swim’, with management training just for softies. I made my way from office junior to MD at quite a young age and was very much in the closet then. It was difficult enough surviving as a woman, let alone as a lesbian. 

Looking back at myself as a leader then, I see quite a brittle person. I put up a metaphorical shield around myself, with the words ‘I am perfect and know exactly what I am doing, so don’t come near’ printed on the front. Of course, I wasn’t and I didn’t. But that mode was driven by fear of being found out and outed.

I definitely wasn’t bringing all of myself to work and that very closed way of doing things and not allowing space for others to come in, has a lack of generosity and empathy, which is then reciprocated in how your team are with you. Just try talking about your weekend, for example, without mentioning the sex of your partner.

Of course, these were the days when society viewed being LGBT in a somewhat different and often openly hostile way. A survival strategy was important to get through. I came out after I left the City, which was my first workplace, as I was sick at living two lives and constantly have to fudge the truth. It was exhausting.

Since then I think my leadership has evolved as I have become much more comfortable in my own skin, I am in a long-term, nourishing relationship of 28 years and I have often had feedback that my sometimes casual mention of the fact that I am a lesbian (without making a song and dance about it) has helped others do the same. At one event just a few years ago, I ended up hearing three people’s coming out stories and felt a bit like an agony auntie.  

So I think those of us who are LGBTQI + have a responsibility to help others be themselves and pass on what you have learnt. If you know yourself and look after yourself, you can fully be yourself and the impact of that on everyone around you is probably greater than you might imagine.