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Bhavik Pancholi - Senior Manager and LGBT+ Employee Network Co-Chair within Retail Banking

Growing up being me, Asian and openly gay, I always knew that I was different to the other boys and girls. And I liked that. In fact, I loved it. I liked how it made me stand out from everyone else. I guess this gave me the confidence to behave in a way that felt natural. The other school children didn’t seem to mind and my teachers embraced my differences, as did my parents.

Starting my career as a cashier for a major high street bank at the age of nineteen, I wasn’t sure if those differences would still be embraced or whether I now needed to change my behaviour in some way. Should I be more formal, less feminine, in some way more professional? If I was supposed to, I didn’t, and people didn’t seem to mind either. But as I progressed up the career ladder to bank manager and senior area and network roles, I started to question my ‘professionalism’ and also what that even meant. The best advice came from my boss and champion who told me to always be myself. She gave me confidence by assuring me that being brilliant at my role wasn’t about my race or my sexuality, but the professional skills I had. “Who you are is enough”, she said. She was always in my corner.

Should I be more formal, less feminine, in some way more professional?

In 2017, now a senior manager in the bank, I was contacted by one of the bank’s inclusion leads. Up until this point, I had only dipped my toe into the company’s diversity and inclusion activities, and I hadn’t really understood at the time what inclusion was all about. She educated me on the importance and value of promoting the visibility of diverse employees for eliminating inequality and discrimination. I was invited to join the LGBT+ Employee Network within the bank’s broader inclusion network, where I shared my personal experiences of being Asian and gay during National Coming Out Day and was told that it was refreshing to see someone with intersectional identities being vocal. The network was right up my street!

Shortly after joining, I became Co-Chair of the LGBT+ Network and was given the task of developing a governance template to formalise objectives and best practices for the network. The template was shared with the broader inclusion network. This improved collaboration and supported a holistic approach to diversity and inclusion within the bank. One of the issues I tackled first was that of exclusion. It seemed that if you were a straight white male, you didn’t ‘belong’ to any of the networks, so what we needed was to educate each other and to promote ally-ship. By assigning an executive sponsor – an LGBT+ ally who sat on the bank’s board and would share with that board the aims of the LGBT+ network (and wider inclusion activity) - we gained support from the top of the organisation for company events and activities. By encouraging a broader membership for each of the networks, we were also able to highlight the importance of bringing diversity of thought to the table and to promote conversations about the benefits of inclusion.

503 UK organisations submitted to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index in 2020 demonstrating their commitment to LGBT+ workplace inclusion

When I joined the bank’s LGBT+ network in 2017, it consisted of around 10 members. By 2019, it had grown more than five-fold, with other networks, including women’s and BAME networks also growing. Additionally, we all had a better understanding of the challenges faced by each strand.

As a result of these efforts, we gained 10 points in the bank’s internal engagement index, scored by its LGBT+ employees, and moved up 45 places on the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. The Stonewall Index is the UK’s leading benchmarking tool for LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace, which many look to when considering a new employer. The bank now aims to be listed amongst the Top 100 companies on the Stonewall Index.


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