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Unilever's Tyler Lee on the importance of LGBTQ role models

In partnership with myGwork.

2022-04-19

Pictures: Provided and Unilever

Tyler Lee from Unilever talks about the importance of role models and how that has driven him to push LGBTQ+ networks forward.

Tyler has had a circular journey in terms of working at Unilever. When he left school, he worked in Tesco and always saw the name Unilever printed on the back of the packets. Now he is working as a Customer Account Manager.

Tyler Lee at Manchester Pride 2021

“I am working with food brands in Tesco, and I really enjoy it. I chose to study international business studies at Bournemouth largely because of the year in industry. While I was in my third year, I worked at Unilever”.

Tyler describes these fourteen months as the perfect fit for him and an experience that taught him a lot. “I learned more in those months in the industry than I did in the other three years combined.”

Now that Tyler has gone full circle working within Unilever and Tesco, he can look back at his younger self and analyse what drew him down this path. 

“Genuinely, I always thought that The Apprentice looked so fun; the creativity and the problem solving looked so interesting to me. I also loved media studies where I could be creative and thought it was awesome creating things such as my brands.”

Tyler's first ever pride event in London 2019

Tyler was the first generation in his family to go to university. While he excelled in his first year in the professional world and was the president of the sky diving society, not everything was smooth sailing.

“I grew up in a small town from Cambridge, I always knew I was quote-on-quote different, and it was pretty obvious to me that I was gay. Despite that, I never felt comfortable telling anyone; I didn’t tell a single soul. I thought, in primary school, I would tell people in secondary school. In secondary, I thought, well, I will come out at university… then it got to the point where it just gets kicked down the road.”

Graduating from university and being offered a place on Unilever’s future leader’s programme became a turning point. “I thought to myself, if I don’t do it now, after university, then I never would.”

Tyler came out when he re-joined Unilever and was in a relationship at the time.

“I had worked with these people while in the closet, so I did not want to go and make a big deal. It was straightforward for me to come back and say, ‘I’m with my boyfriend’ when somebody casually asked what I was doing over the weekend.”

Tyler (centre) ran in the London Red Run for World AIDS Day 2021

Everyone around him was supportive, and Tyler says now, looking back, he thinks about why he did not come out when he was younger.

“My parents are very supportive. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. The only thing I can go back to is my perceptions of what being gay meant. There were no role models around me from the community and certainly not where I wanted to be in the business world. That is the one glaringly obvious thing to me.”

Not coming out had a terrible impact on Tyler’s mental health, which he speaks openly about. “I had sleepless nights at university and sometimes struggled to get through the day. I used to worry so much about having a family and all those simple things. Having those role models is so important. I did not tell anyone at all, and that was an enormous burden.”

Those experiences drove Tyler to help set up the proUd network at Unilever, which started as the LGBTQ+ network in the UK and Ireland and has now grown significantly.

Tyler's first ever pride event in London 2019

“Even if the work we do helps on a small scale, that is what I’m really keen to do.” There’s a balance with networks that Tyler is all too aware of after not being ready to come out himself.

“The challenge with networks is that joining them can be a big leap for some people, especially if they are not out themselves –perhaps why I never got involved with any LGBTQI+ organisations or societies. That is why it is important to be so supportive of allies; this gives people who may need it an opportunity to get involved and benefit from the safe space a network can provide.”

Now having found his feet within sales and as co-chair of proUd, Tyler is all about helping others overcome any barriers they may be facing.

“When I was at Unilever for that year in industry, I didn't work directly with colleagues that were openly a part of the community. This doesn't mean they didn't exist, but with gender identity and sexual orientation it’s not something visible to the naked eye. That is why I have been so passionate about proUd; it provides Unilever with a way to celebrate and champion our LGBTQI+ colleagues. Leaders and allies.”

Tyler (centre) at the British LGBT Awards

Unilever has just received gold accreditation and moved up to number 59 in the workplace equality rankings for Stonewall, and Tyler has had personal recognition too.

“I was shortlisted as a future leader at the British LGBT awards 2021. That was huge, particularly because I was in the closet a few years ago. Now I want to pass the mantle on. My time as co-chair will end this year, and I’m keen to give the opportunity to somebody from a different part of the community, to give a different perspective. Austin, proUd’s other co-chair, and I are aware we are both cis white gay males, which isn’t everyone’s experience. Certainly, within the UK, we need more visibility in terms of business role models from the LGBTQ+ community, and it is the networks that can be a real changing force for that.”

Unilever is a proud partner of myGwork, the LGBTQ+ business community. Find out more about job opportunities at Unilever here