Lisa Harris – Supply Chain and Procurement Expert and Partner Sponsor for Baringa’s Embrace Network (LGBTQ+)
As a gay woman working in a man’s world, I’ve made a long career out of hiding half my life. Making up names of boyfriends that simply didn’t exist. Or bringing my flat mate along as the pretend boyfriend…
While also feeling I had to explain to prospective employers why I wasn’t planning on having children, because I couldn’t tell them I was gay. It was rather ironic.
Now in my 50s, as a partner at Baringa and Partner sponsor for Embrace – Baringa’s LGBTQ+ network – I can finally bring my whole self to work. But for me, the road to acceptance has been a long one.
No room to be who I was
I grew up in a small town in the UK, where few others were gay or open about it – and those that were, didn’t have a great reputation. Then, heterosexuality was the norm. There was no room for anything else and you were considered a failure if you were anything but straight.
In my early teens I started to absorb the fact that I might be gay. I experimented a little, but it was all such a ‘no-no’, it was pretty scary. I figured I just needed to behave like others my age and do what I could to fit in. But the truth was, I didn’t fit in, not really. I was just hanging out with people, pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
At 19 and now at university, I plucked up the courage to tell my family. For me, it felt like everything was falling into place and it was a massive relief. Unfortunately, they saw it very differently.
Following my admission, my parents told me I meant nothing to them, which was probably the toughest thing I have ever had to hear. They told me that they would stop my funding at university as they thought that I was mixing with people at university who were ‘turning me’. Luckily, I’ve got quite a backbone, so I was able to deal with their reaction. Even so, experiencing this at such a young age made an indelible mark and I learnt to be self-sufficient very quickly.
An isolated career
Not surprisingly, to me, being gay felt like a failure. Like I was the poor relative. So, I consciously hid this truth when I started my career. Particularly in management consulting, which was largely made up of white, suited men.
Some of the organisations I worked in were more accepting, and I was ‘out’ a little more with them. But after returning to the consulting world, I slipped back into inventing fictitious male partners. It was a painful paradox. On the one hand, because I didn’t feel worthy, I would lie; but on the other, I’d feel guilty because I was lying to people I liked and respected. It was very isolating and sometimes exhausting.
A world more colourful
Thankfully, things have changed enormously in the last decade. To be out ten or so years ago was tough, there wasn’t any dialogue. But now people talk openly about sexuality. And that means life at work isn’t strained like it used to be, I no longer feel like I’m always on guard.
Now it’s pretty awesome to be out. My other half, Martine, is on just as equal a footing as anybody else’s partner. And the world is so much more colourful! Probably because we went through a lot of hardship when we were younger, we’ve built our own world – and it’s a world that’s free to have fun and celebrate. Now everyone loves Pride month!
Let’s keep the world moving on
I’ve only recently joined Baringa, but I can already see it’s a place that’s doing a lot of things right to break free from the misconceptions of the past. I think the forced selection of a diverse range of people in its broadest sense and at every level, is exactly what needs to happen. But we could also get much better at shouting about the things we’re doing well.
Even though I wish I’d been bolder in my youth and done more to make the world the place it is today, now that I’m part of the Embrace network I hope I can give something back. To thank the world for moving on. And to make sure we continue our journey.
And to remind people in this country that even though we’ve come so far in terms of accepting sexual diversity – gay, transexual people, the LGBTQ+ community – things can go backwards instead of forwards. I feel so lucky that I can now lead a totally normal and wonderful life – even feeling like I’m an integral part of society. But not that long ago, as a gay person I couldn’t. So, let’s not take that for granted. Let’s keep progressing in the right direction.