Shell’s Graham Sparks and Accenture’s Ellen van Essen join Workplace Pride’s Advisory Board
December 3, 2015
Workplace Pride is grateful and proud to announce that the Foundation’s Advisory Board is expanding with two valuable new members. Straight ally Graham Sparks, who is the VP of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) at Shell and Ellen van Essen, Managing Director for Accenture’s Operations practice. Two interviews with our latest board members.
Graham Sparks is VP Diversity & Inclusion at Shell where he is responsible for developing and implementing D&I and talent strategies and policies across Shell. Graham has been with Shell for more than 30 years and has a broad experience, including roles in Human Resources, sales, marketing, business management and manufacturing. Graham is a chemical engineer by profession and holds an MBA from Manchester Business School. He has worked in London, New York and Houston and is currently located in The Hague.
How and when did you become interested and involved with the topic of LGBT inclusion at work?
I have been actively involved in this for several years now. LGBT Workplace inclusion is a key part of our D&I approach at Shell, thus ensuring we treat people with respect in line with our core values. Over the years I have had a number of talented people who have chosen to be ’out’ working for me which has helped me understand more deeply about the lifelong challenges LGBT people face as well as what I can do to support and ensure a culture of respect.
I believe LGBT workplace inclusion is a ‘win-win’ and I have seen in practice that it helps to create an environment where the best ideas can flow, therefore enabling teams to become more innovative, which in turn helps our company to be more competitive.
What is your take on LGBT workplace inclusion within Shell and beyond?
If I look within Shell, I do see significant progress. This has also been recognized externally, for instance through our top employer ranking in the Workplace Pride awards for 2015. Over the past year, we have raised awareness, refreshed the ‘business case’ for LGBT inclusion looking at both value based and commercial aspects, started LGBT employee networks in India and South Africa, increased the number of straight allies and hosted a Workplace Pride conference in Poland.
These are all steps I am really proud of but I also know we have much more to do. We operate in a world where there is progress and resistance and where we see some polarization of opinion on LGBT inclusion driven by legislative changes and societal factors.
Our challenge as a responsible company is to navigate our way through this with foresight and with a focus on ensuring respect for all our staff rather than trying to change personal beliefs.
What does it mean to you to be an ally?
It means a lot, as it allows me to actively demonstrate my commitment in this area and help LGBT colleagues feel at ease in the workplace, so that they contribute to the fullest in a culture of respect for all. It was a great honor to be recognized by Workplace Pride as ‘Most Effective Straight Ally’ and it motivated me even more. It is great to be a part of Shell’s LGBT networks. They are never short of a point of view and have great ideas on how we support our business and drive LGBT workplace inclusion.
How do you practice being an ally?
Firstly, by raising awareness of the opportunities within Shell.
Secondly, by explaining both the values case and the business case for LGBT inclusion and why this matters to me both personally and professionally. Thirdly, I take an active role in challenging assumptions and mental models with a focus on treating people with respect rather than trying to change beliefs. And last but not least, I can be a good listener and a sounding board for ideas and concerns.
What can a straight ally bring to an LGBT foundation?
As with any advisory board, you need a diversity of views and independence of thought. You also need to be clear that you have an advisory role and not to interfere in the day to day running of the organization. I think I can bring both in terms of my current role, which has helped me understand and make more sense of the world as it relates to LGBT people, as well as my prior experience on other boards. I also think there will be times that I can offer a different perspective or bring together diverse points of view.
What is your motivation for joining the Workplace Pride Advisory Board?
Really it’s about giving something back and leaving a legacy. In my business life, I spend a lot of time focusing on activities which support our business performance. Joining the Workplace Pride Advisory Board should allow me to contribute more broadly in the area of workplace inclusion, which, if we get it right, will have impact on more people than I can ever hope to reach within Shell. And at a personal level, Workplace Pride is a highly professional organization that has made me feel very involved and very included so it is a pleasure to make a contribution to their work.
What do you hope to achieve and maybe also learn in this role?
Certainly to contribute to progress on LGBT workplace inclusion and ensuring we can achieve this on an international stage. Learnings for me include a greater understanding of the dilemmas and opportunities and the power of inclusion at work as well as experiencing more on how effective boards operate.
ELLEN VAN ESSEN
Ellen van Essen is Managing Director Operations at Accenture in Amsterdam. She holds a master’s degree in law and lives with her husband and three children in The Hague. Ellen identifies as a bisexual, which she is open about in her work environment. Workplace Pride interviewed her last year on this topic for the conference brochure. With her experience in business and being LGBT in the workplace, Ellen will be a valuable asset to the board.
What is your motivation to join the Workplace Pride Advisory Board?
First of all, I am extremely impressed with the accomplishments of Workplace Pride and its member companies so far and I am honored to take a place on the board. At the same time, a lot still needs to be done to ensure that workplaces around the world are truly inclusive. The business case for diversity in companies has been made and in my view, as leaders we still need to share this business case on a daily basis in our companies. This will be one way to ensure further commitment to (LGBT) diversity in the workplace. Furthermore, we need to assist other companies in their steps towards diversity in the workplace and share our experiences and best practices.
What is your take on LGBT inclusion?
Obviously LGBT inclusion is just a part of diversity needed in the workplace and I am very active in Accenture to promote diversity in general, as it is clear to me that this will drive us to be a more successful company whilst at the same time create a better work environment for our employees. I feel personally very responsible to support LGBT employees to be themselves so that they feel empowered to influence and make a difference in their places of work.
Why do you think bisexuals have such a hard time coming out at work?
People think they don’t know what to expect from bisexuals. Being gay is one thing, but being bi is hard to understand for some people and I think this is why so many bisexuals decide to stay in the closet. When I was in a relationship with a woman, a lot of people naturally assumed that I was a lesbian. When specifically asked, I would indicate that I am bi and some people would be confused or start to laugh and say things like “I guess you cannot choose”? Being a bisexual sometimes causes some laughter and sometimes even leads to sexually tinted comments, but I have found a way to let it roll of my shoulders.
What do you hope to achieve and maybe also learn in this role?
I will bring diversity and some grey hairs!
Having worked for a couple of large organizations that have always been very inclusive (AT&T, KPN, Accenture) I look forward to sharing Do’s and Don’ts and also to learn from the experience of other WP members. I am a strong believer that organizations or teams that try to further diversity should also reflect diversity themselves. For example, women promoting gender diversity without the active support of their male colleagues, will be less successful compared to gender diverse teams in a similar situation. Therefore, looking forward to working with the very diverse Workplace Pride team!