Mark McLane of Barclays believes a diverse workforce always leads to a stronger company. He met Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.
Mark McLane could have been forgiven for feeling a tinge of apprehension as he headed to the barbecue with his partner Carlos. He was about to change the course of his life, just by showing up.
What happened next placed him on the path to become one of the world’s best known diversity officers, in sectors at the sharpest end of the business world. Today, as the managing director of diversity and inclusion at Barclays, he believes our inherent differences are really our strengths.
His own experience of ‘coming out’ at work in the mid 1990s, while he was working for the global consumer product firm Whirlpool Corporation, showed why we all need allies.
“I worked in the manufacturing sector in the US,” he recalled. “I was not ‘out’ at work because I was still somewhat unsure about what the reaction would be. So why, at the age of 32, did I come out?
“I’m the godfather to my best friend’s daughter. His daughter and son have known myself and my partner Carlos as Uncle Mark and Uncle Carlos their whole lives.
“Whirlpool Corporation was doing great work around diversity. My friend and his wife were having a barbecue for senior leaders at Whirlpool. They came over to the house one day without the kids. They sat in my living room with Carlos and I. And I truly was afraid one of them was ill, because of the look on their face.
“They said, ‘We’re going to have this barbecue, and we want to invite both of you. But we don’t want to put you on the spot’.
“My partner said, ‘I just won’t go.’ And I said, ‘We’re not going to have this. I’ve got a niece and a nephew, who are now eight and four. And we’re going to have all these people at your house. And we’re going to have to sit them down, and say, ‘Uncle Mark is coming, Uncle Carlos isn’t. And around these people, you can’t talk about Uncle Carlos to Uncle Mark.’
“When all they’ve known their whole lives, is Uncle Mark and Carlos. I said, ‘We won’t do that to the children. Because the conversation you’re going to have then, is ‘Why not? What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they like Uncle Carlos?
“So at that point, you have to decide what’s most important in your life…We went to the barbecue.”
Their hosts’ fears were misplaced. At the barbecue, a female executive from Whirlpool came and put her arm around Mr McLane.
“She said, ‘I’ve just met your partner. He’s lovely. I need you to get involved with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) network’.”
“The beauty of that moment was I realised the level of allies within the organisation.”
A graduate in business management from the University of Scranton, Mr McLane rose through the ranks to become Whirlpool’s chief diversity officer, and later went on to become director for diversity and inclusion at Booz Allen Hamilton, a professional services firm based in Washington DC. He moved to the UK with Carlos in late 2011 to take on his current role with Barclays.
The five pillars of his approach focus on issues linked to gender, disability, LGBT rights, multi-culturalism and multi-generationalism – or age discrimination.
Mr McLane said: “People ask me, ‘What’s the most important aspect of diversity at Barclays?’ All five of those pillars have equal weight. Our strategy is driven by diversity councils within each of our businesses.”
Mr McLane has established a global allies programme “to continue to make us an even more inclusive work environment”.
It has also led to a host of innovations that make life easier for customers with limited vision, such as debit cards with primary colours, and cash machines that talk back.
“Understanding our colleagues should be giving us insights into the customers,” he said. “Talking ATMs (or cash machines) is a great example of accessible banking.
“We have what are called ‘listening groups’ at Barclays; they are formalised focus groups and we do them by geography. We can sit down with colleagues and ask the question, ‘What are we doing well? Where do we get better?’’
“By listening to colleagues and constituencies, we’re stretching that innovation to places that I may not see or think about because I don’t have the need. It’s about greater understanding and awareness.”
Attitudes differ around the world. In parts of Africa and India many regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate. “Everybody says it’s very different in Africa, it’s also different in India which is a huge market for us at Barclays,” said Mr McLane. “It’s also different in the US, where we do have marriage equality today, but I think there are about 24 states where I could still be legally fired for being an ‘out’ executive.”
Mr McLane stressed that this doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is going to act on that legislation, which is “somewhat antiquated”. In June, many large US firms, including Barclays, applauded the US Supreme Court’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage. Mr McLane is pleased to see the steps that have been taken to help people with disabilities gain access to the world of work.
“Think about accessibility in the workplace 10 or 15 years ago!’’ he said.
One of the biggest challenges is universal. How do we stop people being judged by their age? Almost a quarter of a century ago, as a twentysomething regional sales manager, Mr McLane encountered a painful form of age discrimination. He added: “Clients would say, ‘How old are you? “Now I’m at the other end of that spectrum, and people ask, ‘How much runway do you have? I will tell you this, ‘I don’t have a runway, I have a helicopter pad. I’m hovering and I will decide when I’m going to take off or not.”
Source: Yorkshire Post