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Gay businessman Miles Russell on being your whole self at work: "I think a company should celebrate the diversity of the people it employs"

2017-06-20
As the company’s head of external affairs, Miles Russell and his team of communications professionals are responsible for raising the profile of the newly merged company, Willis Towers Watson, and managing its overall corporate reputation. Coming from the insurance broker Willis, that merged with the professional services company Towers Watson in January 2016, Miles and his team provide specialist support in the areas of Public Relations, Corporate Social Responsibility and Public Affairs to this global advisory, broking and solutions Company that employs 41,000 people and does business in 140 countries across the globe. “CSR is incredibly important to the corporate and brand reputation of Willis Towers Watson. CSR is for many people predominantly about charity, but in fact it is about much more than that. It’s about the role of the company in the communities where we do business around the world and our values as a company are an integral part of any CSR strategy. Inclusion and diversity is absolutely a core part of CSR and the way that we position our company, both externally to clients but also internally for our own employees and in how we attract new talent.” Willis Towers Watson is committed to creating a fully diverse and inclusive work environment. Just recently they received a perfect score of 100% for the 2017 Corporate Equality Index by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. ‘Bring your whole self to work’ is this year’s Willis Towers Watson’s pride theme. It not only celebrates people who perform at their best, when they are their true selves at work, but also fights ongoing assumptions and prejudices. “Willis Towers Watson is not only employing me for my expertise, my skills and my experience as a communications professional, but also as an individual. I come with a lot more than just one particular skill-set, and therefore you get all of me as that person. At the end of the day I think a company should celebrate the diversity of the people it employs. Any successful business operating in today’s world needs to employ people that reflect the diversity of the clients that we do business with and the communities in which we operate. I think that’s the critical piece here and therefore when you talk about bringing your whole self to work, then there isn't a part of you that you should ever leave at home or outside of the work place. Yes, of course you are always professional in the way you conduct yourself, regardless of sexuality or gender or anything else. But the important point is that you are who you are, and you should never be ashamed or ever feel the need to apologize for who you are as a person.” Working in London’s Square Mile, which is still too dominated by a middle age, white, male demographic, Miles says he has rarely experienced any sort of discrimination in his 27 year career to date. “I was never one of these people that had to go through a transition later in life, I have been out since university. But the reality is, even today there are situations when, sometimes someone might make a comment, completely naively, for example assuming if you say you have a partner, then it must be to someone of the opposite sex. I feel bad having to correct that person because I know they're going to be embarrassed, because they've assumed. But that’s not discrimination, that’s just people being people.” Having been born in the 1960s, when being gay was still a felony, Miles applauds marches like Pride even though their purpose has changed over the years. “I think in recent years Pride in the UK and many other liberal democratic societies has become more of a celebration. If you go back a few decades it was about campaigning for gay rights. I think there has been a shift in that respect, but then you go to certain other countries where a pride march will be banned, or if anyone attempts to march or demonstrate in support of gay rights then the police will move in and attack and arrest individuals. Or in some cases even worse.” With evidence of homophobic hate crimes on the rise and atrocities against the LGBT+ communities still common around the world, Miles thinks global businesses can have a positive impact and spark a change. “There are quite a few things that are not exactly going in the right direction at the moment and some places where you could say things are going backwards, undoubtedly, in terms of recognition of same sex marriage and treatment of transgender rights and so forth. So, what can we do about that? All businesses, including Willis Towers Watson that operate on a global level, have to operate within the laws and regulations of the country they are doing business in, and you also have to respect the culture. Yet, this can sometimes sit uncomfortably alongside your own values from a western liberal society. We as a company can create a safe and appropriate environment within the confines we control and through that mechanism you hope that however subtly, somehow you and other companies are influencing the wider environment.” Miles, a confident individual, successful in his field of expertise, has never felt discriminated against because of his sexuality, while climbing the career ladder. Always willing to stand up for LGBT+ rights in the workplace, he never shies away to call people out when he thinks something is wrong. “Life is too short not to be true to yourself and to the people around you. And yes, sometimes that is very difficult and there are consequences. Whether it is with family or others, but at the end of the day I just think people need to be honest. This is the 21st century, quite frankly it should not be an issue.” If you’d like to work in a in an environment where you can be your true self, Willis Towers Watson is recruiting for various roles. Apply now on myGwork! Willis Towers Watson is a corporate member of myGwork, the networking and recruitment platform for LGBT+ professionals and graduates. Words by Kevin Gassebner