LGBT rights in the workplace: why employer support is vital

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For Alessio Pagliano, an IT expert from Turin, Italy, opting to study AAT advanced and professional diploma was life changing.  

Although Pagliano, 39, loved his IT-focussed roles at insurance multinational, Aviva Plc, where he had been working since moving to the UK in 2005, he often felt that his next career step was eluding him because of his lack of finance background.

Knowing your worth

“I always had that feeling of not really being able to be as effective as I possibly could. I had loads of IT qualifications, but I wanted something else that could help me get a promotion, because regardless of this sort of achievement, I could never get the promotion that I thought I deserved,” he said.

In the end, studying for AAT qualifications turned out to be the gamechanger he needed, allowing him to combine his IT expertise with newly acquired financial proficiency in a promoted role as an Anaplan model builder.

“The promotion is amazing for me because I tried for 13 years and I didn’t get it, and now having all this extra knowledge and experience, working as part of a really strong performing team that is actually delivering stuff, has been the best move that I ever made,” he said.

New role, new responsibilities

In his new role as Anaplan Model builder/analyst, he applies technical knowledge supported by newly acquired financial and management accounting skills converting business requirements into models that give great insight for the business to make key decisions.

“Anaplan is a disruptive and very flexible technology that is basically enabling developers or accountants to create planning, budgeting and forecasting applications across the entire business. It could be in finance, it could be in sales, it could be in HR, or anything that requires planning and reporting,” he explained.

This kind of progression seemed beyond Pagliano’s grasp just a few years ago, until his quest for deeper financial knowledge brought him to AAT, which he decided was perfect for someone with no prior accounting experience.

“I thought this would be the ideal place to start because it’s starting from scratch,” he said.

How studying increased his confidence

With the full financial and logistical support of his employer, Pagliano powered through both advanced and professional diplomas. “It immediately boosted my knowledge, experience and confidence,” he said.

Armed with his new skills, Pagliano applied for an internal finance transformation project as a mini-secondment. “I liked it and they liked me. They made an offer and I moved into a new role,” he said.

His new role brings him into contact with senior stakeholders, finance business partners and accountants.

“I think that sort of knowledge and confidence that I acquired from AAT enabled me to understand and also advise, because studying AAT in 2016 I was also at times up to date with the most recent information,” he said.

The importance of a work/life balance

Pagliano admits that success at work is one of the big motivational factors in his life.

“Being able to go to the office feeling appreciated, that I can make a difference and a contribution working with the team is quite important for me,” he said.

“But at the same time it’s also about being able to have the right balance between work and personal life,” he said. His current job requires long hours during the week, but, in return, he has every second Friday free.

Lack of LGBT rights

Pagliano uses the time to visit his family in Italy or travel with his husband of two years, Rob.

Moving to the UK in his twenties was also transformational on a personal level, he explained, as it allowed him to be fully open about his sexuality.

“Although my family and friends in Italy knew, I never felt comfortable in coming out in the work environment because I knew that it would have been massively counterproductive. There is still quite a lot of homophobia. Perhaps it’s manageable, but the rights aren’t there,” he said.

So if the rights aren’t there in the first place, it’s a much more complex issue and you never know who you are going to deal with. Coming out in Italy you can put yourself in a massive risk situation, which I never felt comfortable with,” he said.

By contrast, in the UK, Pagliano found that Aviva was a “gay friendly employer” where he immediately felt comfortable.

“I slowly came out at Aviva, and everything has been absolutely brilliant. I can be me in and outside of the office, which obviously makes a huge difference, and not everyone would seriously appreciate it,” he said.

“It’s something that unless you are in the situation it is a bit different and difficult to realise the importance of it.”

Employer support

Aviva allowed him not only to be himself, but they were actively involved in promoting the rights of the LGBT community, he said.

“They support both Pride and they’re really big on Corporate Social Responsibility. LGBT and minorities support is something that they are really focussing on,” Pagliano pointed out.

“Knowing that I can go for example to the London or the Norwich Pride parade myself, wearing an Aviva T-shirt and meeting colleagues, it’s so nice,” he said.

“And I can go back to the office and talk about it. When people ask ‘what have you done last weekend?’, I feel comfortable in saying that I went to the pub with my husband without lying or saying I just went out.”

Riding high on his recent successes, Pagliano only has one joking complaint – that his thunder is sometimes stolen by his husband’s intriguing background as a nuclear submarine coxswain.

“When you go out and meet new people, and they ask ‘what do you do?’ I say I work in finance and IT, and he says ‘I was in the Cold War and the Falklands and I was driving a nuclear-powered submarine’. How do you compete with that?” he laughed.

Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.

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