To celebrate the diversity of our workplace and customers, we are making our Telstra Air Wi-Fi Network free in Australia from 1-3 March so that everyone can share the love. Find a hotspot here. To showcase our history of creating an inclusive workplace for all, Transformation and People Executive, Julian Clarke, shares his experience fearlessly.

I spend a fair amount of time in my day job thinking about how we create the right culture at Telstra. “Find your courage” has been one of our values for some years, but how easy it to be courageous? A colleague asked me recently what being fearless meant and this caused me to reflect on my own journey with courage, fear and shame – as both a human and an employee.

Fear, shame and courage are wonderfully interconnected.

Shame lurks behind so much fear and it can take great courage to overcome these powerful emotions. I grew up always knowing that I was gay. But living in a relatively conservative family and going to church most weeks, I felt great shame and self-loathing at times. It took me many years to find the courage to come out to my family. And many more years really to understand that my deepest fears and lack of self-belief were in fact rooted in shame.

To many who work with me now, I am sure I come across as a confident executive. Thankfully, I am a great deal more confident and courageous nowadays than I was before. I remember when I started work as an articled clerk in London, I was a pretty shy and fearful person. Nothing put greater fear in me than being told by my supervising partner to walk around the office, knock on doors and ask if anyone needed help. I was scared of anyone more senior than me, and that was the whole office!

The Telstra team at Midsumma March

Being gay was another thing to be afraid of at work back then. You may think that you know this story: that I kept who I was a secret and didn’t tell anyone for fear of being found out. In fact, the opposite was true. I came out at work and while that sounds normal for today’s workplace, this was in a conservative British legal practice in the ‘90s. I was out because I had someone I could look up to who set the standard. Our Managing Partner was gay. He was everything I didn’t know I could be: confident, a tour-de-force, unashamedly himself and publicly out. I still remember him walking into my office one day after I decided to get highlights in my hair (the one and only time). He looked at me, yelled, “Good God, Clarke, what have you done to your hair you big poof!” and marched straight out.

I was half-terrified of him but equally saw that many of the fears my mother projected on me, about gays not able to secure a good job, were incorrect. He was a true role model and gave me the courage to be myself at work. Sadly, Peter passed away after a short battle with cancer during my articled clerkship, but in ways he will never know he changed my life.

That’s the thing about sexuality. It’s not something that’s visible on a person. It’s something we see and express through our words and actions. But if you enter a workplace where you’re unsure of how you can talk or behave, you act a little different. Our perceived notions of prejudice can make us hide in odd ways. Hiding who you are is an odd thing to do; pretending to be straight is an odd thing to do. I can say that about myself now, but that’s not the reality for everyone.

It can be very hard for the LGBT+ community to be fearless, or at the very least, themselves -as the consequences can be life-threatening. This is why it is so important to have an inclusive environment in which to work. We spend more time at work than we do in our own homes, so of course, it needs to be a place where you feel comfortable being yourself.

Inclusion is quite an amorphous concept. Last year, after the change in the marriage laws that many people fought so hard for, my (now) husband Nathan and I got married. We’d already had a ‘wedding’ several years before, an unofficial ceremony amongst family and friends to acknowledge what we knew we were. We’d both discussed that this second wedding was just “getting the paperwork done”. It wasn’t until we were sitting in the registry office and shown our marriage certificate that I realised the gravity of it all. I remember seeing the Commonwealth insignia at the top of that piece of paper and feeling totally overwhelmed and pushed to tears. I felt what it meant to be recognised equally by our nation. To be included.

That feeling of inclusion should apply to everyone. Telstra has been, and I hope always will be, a strong supporter of equality, diversity and inclusivity – not just for LGBTI+ people but more broadly. Of course, the work here is never done and we are far from perfect. We’ve got glass ceilings to break, accessibility for all and diverse role models to champion. I’m glad that I have found my own courage, conquered my own fear and hope that I can keep helping others to do the same through championing inclusivity. As Gloria Gaynor reminds us: “Life’s not worth a damn till you can shout out I am what I am.”