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Andy Dent from Clyde and Co talks about his experience of positive and negative discrimination with Louise Sinnerton from myGwork

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2019-06-04

Andy Dent from Clyde and Co talks about his experience of positive and negative discrimination with Louise Sinnerton from myGwork.

Andy and I sit down to talk on a Tuesday afternoon, and straight away he tells me that his career path has not always been clear cut.

“If you’ve asked me five years ago I would’ve said I don’t know how I ended up working in the world of D & I, but now I’ve pieced together my jigsaw."

Andy grew up in a small traditional town in what he describes as middle England, nearly everybody was white and fitted the same mould, so growing up was a confusing and sometimes difficult time.

At school Andy wasn’t sure if he was gay, but did finally accept he was when he was in his early 20s.

At the time, being out in the workplace was not the done thing and at times not being out at work was quite hard: “I started working in London when I was 19, back then the age of consent for gay men was 21, and the legal and cultural landscape was just so incredibly different to what it is today." 

Andy describes creating a persona around himself, inventing imaginary characters and struggling to remember what you’ve said to which colleagues.

He spent 10 years in the closet and reflects on this: “The longer you leave it in terms of coming out the harder it gets. But then, I’d always said to myself if anyone asked me that I wouldn’t deny it.

"After working at the same company for a decade somebody finally asked me one Friday night at the pub, and I simply said, ‘Yes I am’." 

It felt like a huge weight had been lifted, although Andy admits to being apprehensive about how colleagues would react, Andy also knew he would be the topic of gossip on Monday morning - even in an era before smartphones.

At the time Andy was working in a huge open plan office, with more than 200 colleagues, and he was the only one who was openly gay.

This was a particularly difficult time for him as there were no support networks or a community to share experiences with.

Sadly, some colleagues were unsupportive towards him: “There were people I thought would be hostile, and people I thought would be supportive - and generally I got that totally the wrong way round.

"That was a real shock to the system, and some people were so unkind, when I thought they would have my back, but I didn't let it get me down."

After a few more years, Andy had the opportunity to leave and do something totally different after a close friend opened a country pub and he left to help him with the business.

Andy later returned to London and did some temp work as a PA, and this  experience was what led him to develop a passion for, and ultimately a career in, Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace.

“Very quickly I realised I was a square peg in a round hole - I was the only male PA, in a very male department," he says.

"What struck me was that I was treated so differently to my female colleagues. They treated me as one of the lads, and gave me better work. At times it was an uncomfortable experience."

Having gone from being harshly treated by some for being gay, to then be the beneficiary of unconscious bias was something he found eye opening, and which now drives the D & I work he does.

Andy made a conscious choice to come out early on in his PA role, and it was a much better experience than coming out than the first time round.

However, while working in a temporary role he felt he had very little power to influence the company culture and found it hard to speak up about his experience.

So, when Andy was offered a permanent role in the same department, he soon joined the LGBT network and got more involved in D & I activities.

A couple of years later a role came up in the HR department and it's this that Andy sees this as a pivotal moment of his career. "My boss at the time convinced me to apply for the role.

"It was being a PA that actually propelled me to go for it, as I wanted a role where I felt I could make a difference and use my own experiences to help created change."

Andy has been a D & I professional for 15 years and spent ten years working in the legal sector and now works as Global Head of Corporate Responsibility and Inclusion at global law firm Clyde and Co.

Despite not going to university Andy is proud of where his career path has taken him. Andy loves his role and simply wouldn't consider working somewhere that doesn't take D&I seriously or where he couldn't be himself at work.

Andy wants to make a difference and in particular help other LGBT colleagues, doing informal mentoring, and making sure he can help people on the way up - as he knows what not having that support feels like.

As we chat about the next generation and the clear feeling that so much support is still needed, he tells me: “Although the social and legal landscape has changed beyond all recognition in the UK, this doesn’t help if you have difficult personal circumstances, or your culture is not very accepting of the LGBT+ Community.

"In the world at large there will always be a tiny minority who would have you killed if they could and there are constant examples of hate crimes, but we have nonetheless made considerable progress.

"But because of the progress made, so many people, including LGBT people, think that the job has been done. But for me there’s still so much more to do."

One clear example is around Trans* issues, which Andy feels are where LGB issues were 30 years ago.

"I want to help address these remaining issues and where I can be a positive force for change and a role model for other LGBT colleagues, whether that is in the UK or further afield."

Clyde & Co is a corporate partner of myGwork, the LGBT+ business community.