“I took a personal and career decision that found me bringing my whole self to work as LGBT leader.” – Interview with Lawrence Spicer - Jury Member at the RAHM Contest 2017
If you search a synonym for “LGBT role model” in the dictionary, you could find “Lawrence Spicer” for it. Unstoppable and wise, we invited him to be Jury Member of the RAHM Contest 2017 and if you read this interview, you will understand why.
Your job keeps you very busy. How many hours do you sleep every night?
Lawrence Spicer (L.S): While I do have a busy life, I believe that getting enough rest is critical to a healthy mind and body. I have to admit I am a bit of a night hawk and generally go to bed fairly late however I do manage to get about 7 hours a sleep a night which is what I find I need to be rested.
Oftentimes, not being out at work adds to the stress. When did you decide to come out.at work and how did you do it?
L.S: I grew up in the era of “don’t ask don’t tell” and so I was 40 before I came out to my family and colleagues at work. Maybe it was turning 40 that was the catalyst for coming out at work, but after 17 years of working for RBC I had just grown tired of covering my true authentic self and thus made the decision to come out to my boss at the time. I had the opportunity to work with my boss in various roles and she was my mentor for many years. She is an amazing ally and had a way of creating space for me to find my own journey of coming out. When I was ready to share the information with her, she was tremendously supportive and instantly our relationship transformed to a whole other level.
That must have been a big change. What positive outcome came with being out?
L.S: There has been so many positive outcomes however, when I became the Executive Chair for RBC Pride Canada in 2014 I took a personal and career decision that found me bringing my whole self to work as a leader, to an extent I would have never dreamed possible. After almost 30 years in the bank, I find my resolve to make a difference in the lives of the next generation of LGBTQ employees and leaders accelerated. I believe that living my authentic self has simply energized my leadership commitment to making change in my organization and me to dream bigger and to have an impact on Canada and more globally. I find myself ever more confident now to use my “executive currency” to help influence my organization through the many relationships I have built over the years, and I feel confident in the knowledge that sharing my story, has helped speed up the dialogue and is creating sustainable change.
Many professionals are still missing out on that. What do you recommend to young LGBTI leaders who are not out yet?
L.S: This is always a tough question to answer as the decision to come out is such a personal one and can be impacted by so many factors in one’s life. What I can tell you is that from my perspective as a leader, I found the energy that I would have historically used to cover up my authentic self has now been channeled into becoming a better leader. Leadership at its core is about building relationships and trust with those around you that are part of your team.. By being comfortable in who you are you send a message to those around you that you are confident, interested in connecting and that you are real. Of course your decision to come out may depend on other environmental factors globally such as the country you live in. Your safety is of paramount importance and so making sure you have a foundation of support around you is critical in this part of your life journey.
With RAHM, we want to make a change. Why should young and senior LGBTI leaders apply for RAHM?
L.S: If there was one piece of advice I would give LGBTQ youth, it would be in addition to excelling academically and finding something you are passionate about that supports your community, it would be to invest in building relationships early in your career. Being active in finding people that are doing the kind of work you like and that you respect is a good start at building career relationships. You will never know why a person has come into your social, academic or work sphere, however these contacts and the relationships you will build with these individuals will be the people that help you continue to learn, grow and excel in your chosen career path. Seek out mentors that will tell you the honest truth and give you the feedback you need, when you need it and support you as you grow in experience and confidence. RAHM is one of those leadership opportunities that bring all of this together. The environment that this event creates instantly puts the participants into relationships and connections that would normally take many years to develop!
In the last RAHM contest we let the people discuss a 5% LGBTI quota in leadership. What do you think about that?
L.S: I remember this exercise as part of the leadership rounds which I thought was a terrific and dialogue-provoking question. From my experience, organizations need various metrics to help bring focus to the changes they are trying to effect. So to the extent that a metric such as a 5% LGBTI quota as a lagging indicator can support other change practices – like bringing LGBT talent into the organization, creating mentoring programs and creating stretch moves to gain the experiences one needs to grow –that is what ultimately builds the pipeline of talent needed to see talented LGBT leaders excel in organizations.
You were on the jury of the world’s first LGBTI leadership contest. Is there something special you remember?
L.S: I think one of the most powerful takeaways I had as an executive judge attending the inaugural RAHM Leadership Contest was the newfound information I could use as a storyteller of change within RBC and in public speaking engagements in Canada and internationally on Diversity & Inclusion as a business imperative. Right from the opening evening and throughout the day of the contest, one was struck by the fact that over 90 LGBTQ leaders from some 40 different countries, from a multitude of public and private sectors, all arrived with a common shared purpose. And while our personal journey as LGBTQ persons and ultimately as senior leaders within business may have been different, throughout the contest one quickly realized that our resolve to help change the experience of LGBTQ peoples in our corporations, our communities and the countries we live in, was evident and amplified! As an RBC executive and a leader who supports the enhancement of employee experience and career opportunities for the LGBTQ community, I felt even more empowered to accelerate change in my organization as a result of this experience.
Some people think our experiences shape our perception of the world. Do you think there is a difference between LGBTI and straight leaders?
L.S: While I can only speak from my own leadership journey I do believe that I have always had a heightened awareness of those around me in terms of their reactions, their sensitivities and their subtle signals. While I could not put a label on it, there is a book I am currently reading that I am finding fascinating and I would highly recommend it to LGBTQ young people that are interested in leadership. The book is called, “The G Quotient”, by Kirk Snyder. The book describes the research of why gay executives are excelling as leaders. The G Quotient was named to the Harvard Business Review’s 2006 reading list. Its worth checking out!
Hopefully, the number of out and proud leaders will increase in the future. Why do we need out LGBTI Leaders?
L.S: I was once asked by a journalist if companies are ready for professionals like me (meaning LGBT executives). I found this to be an interesting question and I said that companies will miss the S Curve of change if they are not ready for LGBT professionals in today’s business environment. For whether you view diversity and inclusion from a values based perspective or from a business case perspective, the fact remains that diversity of thought is key to helping leading organizations move forward in today’s global business environment. We need to also consider the work force of the future and their expectations. When I think of millennials, whether they are straight or identify as LGBTQ, their expectation of what a barrier free inclusive work environment will look like in the future is going to require that organizations are ready for them. Having leaders at all levels including senior executives that embrace diversity and inclusion, including LGBTQ executives, will be important. Future leaders in organizations “can’t be what they can’t see”…and so for the many talented young LGBTQ employees in organizations today that do not have senior executive LGBTQ leaders they can identify with, this is a missed opportunity and one that organizations should work to change.
Join our RAHM Community or apply for the RAHM Contest 2020: To the application form!