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Julia Sheppard: The freedom of being out in the workplace

A lot has changed since Julia Sheppard started her career two decades ago. Jules shares her experience on coming out in the workplace, reflects on the cultural shift of the trading floors in London from twenty years ago, and emphasises the importance of creating a safe space where everyone is encouraged to be their whole selves at work.

At Macquarie, Pride is more than just a month and our commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the workplace continues year-round.


A challenging, but important path

“If I’d realised the full benefit of being out at work when I started working in London twenty years ago, the first half of my career may have gone very differently,” says Jules.

Throughout the beginning of her career, Jules thought that hiding her sexual orientation was necessary - not only when it came to being accepted within the team and wider department, but also when being considered for promotion.

“Let me take you back to when trading floors were dominated by young, white males dressed in matching suits – and whilst I may have had the suit, that is where the similarities ended.”

Jules assumed that the only way to succeed was to be more like her colleagues working in her team. “What I didn’t realise was my differences were my strengths.”

“I spent my time avoiding being drawn into conversations about what I’d done over the weekend, and if I had to talk about it, I was conscious to use words like ‘they’ or ‘we’ when referring to my partner.” The effort was immense, and it was exhausting – not to mention isolating for Jules.

“As a result, I was never able to build close relationships with my colleagues as, looking back, I guess they didn’t feel like they ever really knew much about me outside of work.”

In retrospect, Jules feels this was largely driven by the pervasive office culture at the time. “I never really had an indication that it was okay to be gay. I constantly looked for a sign which never came. Effort which I could have been putting into my day job, was spent trying to conceal my perceived barriers to career success.”

That all changed for Jules with the appointment of a new senior leader. "They made it clear that a diverse team was a strength. Openly challenging homophobic office ‘banter’ and encouraging the use of inclusive language, the manager set the tone for the team.  This was something I had not experienced previously. It was refreshing, reassuring, and I felt supported by my team.”

Managers can play an important part by casting a leadership shadow and modelling behaviour that is inclusive and welcoming for all their team members.

Over time, this gave Jules the confidence to be her authentic self around colleagues. “I could begin to transfer the energy I once put into maintaining my work persona into more productive channels.” Jules then began to flourish in her role. She started to build greater bonds with colleagues that she’d worked with for years, many of whom she previously hadn’t connected with on a personal level.


A new way forward

As Jules began to explore her next career move, she believes “a company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) credentials were a big driver. Macquarie, being a Stonewall Top 100 Employer, was at the top of my list.” Now with the company for four years, Jules shares that she’s never felt so accepted in an organisation.

“The relief of being able to be honest and authentic with my colleagues allows me to put even greater focus on doing my job. Without the effort of hiding a part of myself, and progressing my career without fear of discrimination, I can perform my best.”

Jules is a Vice President in Macquarie’s Commodities and Global Markets business which offers capital and financing, risk management, market access, physical execution and logistics solutions to a diverse client base. Specifically, Jules oversees regional revenue management, cost control and regulatory reporting functions for the Futures team – a challenging role that requires a high level of detail and focus.

“When I look around the trading floor today – it’s a very different place. There’s an abundance of rainbow flags and a diverse mix of genders, cultures and ethnicities, and we’ve even relaxed the suits.”

The inclusive culture Jules has discovered at Macquarie, enables her to bring her whole self to work. “I am proud to be “out” and hope that others feel inspired to do the same; to be their true selves – every day.”


Inclusion matters

Jules has also been an active member of the Macquarie Pride EMEA employee network which further drives LGBTQ+ inclusivity and helps to support and promote a psychologically safe environment.

The network is made up of members, ambassadors, a steering committee, and is led by two co-chairs. Jules sits on the steering committee and works on the planning and organising of events, participates in the reverse mentoring programme, as well as supports the co-chairs. Julia reflects on her time at Macquarie, “I have seen equal growth and change in our Pride network and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) agenda culminating with Macquarie being named the No.1 UK employer in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. This was a truly fantastic achievement and I’m not ashamed to say I cried when I found out the news.”

Looking back, Jules feels the real catalyst for change in her career came from new senior leadership and therefore new allies, who made her feel comfortable to share who she was, and actively encouraged an inclusive culture for everyone.

“Never underestimate the power allyship and sponsorship can have, and if you are a manager reading this, know that you can have a real impact on creating an inclusive culture and supporting LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace.”

Learn more about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Macquarie

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