Empowering authentic and visible LGBT+ leaders at Nokia
One of the intractable realities of LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and related communities) inclusion is that it is about a community that does not have visible traits. That is because the act of “coming out” is both a very personal decision, and something that depends on one’s environment, especially when it comes to personal safety.
What this practically means for LGBT+ employees however, is that for many it is still safer to not be visibly “out”. And once you start your career by needing to hide a key part of your identity, it is significantly more challenging to grow professionally — and when you continue to do so for a while, it can be all the more difficult to come out when you already are a senior leader known by many.
This challenge is one that many employees face, in our industry and beyond. It is also one of the many reasons we started participating in Workplace Pride’s Global Benchmark a few years ago, being recognized this year again as Ambassador level.
This got us thinking, back in 2019 when planning the yearly agenda of EQUAL! (our LGBT+ Employee Resource Group), what we at Nokia could do differently to break this cycle of invisibility and unleash the talent of all of our employees, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. And the OUT Leaders program was born.
At its inception, OUT Leaders was an internal program to provide space and opportunities for growth for Nokia's LGBT+ leaders, particularly so that LGBT+ employees could envision themselves as future leaders.
Then the COVID–19 pandemic hit, and forced us to re-think how to make an impact on the broader employee population; that is when we rebooted OUT Leaders to become an internal LGBT+ talent development program, open to current and aspiring leaders from the global LGBT+ community at Nokia — attracting 14 participants as part of our first cohort, hailing from Latin America, Europe, the US and Asia.
As many reading this will be familiar with, we spent a nontrivial amount of time on video calls. Listening to external experts and professionals present on a variety of topics ranging from authentic leadership to the power of telling one’s story. The cohort also worked on projects that would define new inclusion initiatives to be implemented at Nokia.
This was important, but even more remarkable was what this did beyond the obvious: it created a strong sense of community making it O.K. not just to be “out” — but being “out” and be a role model.
Since our first cohort in 2020–2021, we expanded our program in 2022 to also include participants from Nokia’s ecosystem — customers, suppliers and business partners — to increase our impact onto the companies we do business with every day.
This brings me to a very special day in early September 2022: after more than two years working together virtually, we were able to meet in person in Finland in an event where both the first and second cohorts of OUT Leaders were invited to. Teams presented current projects, discussed the impact of the program on the participants’ lives, and so much more.
It is hard to convey in words what this event meant for all of us, participants and organizers alike. But what I can say is that we left Finland with a renewed sense of purpose wanting to continue to do much more for the next generation of leaders.
Visibility matters. I am so very proud of our first groups of OUT Leaders who took a chance with us, sometimes coming out for the first time at work. These leaders can show the rest of the company that we’re not just telling LGBT+ employees and new hires that Nokia is a place where they can thrive professionally, but instead they can show it, by their very own example. That is genuine leadership.
PS: if you are working at Nokia or in Nokia’s ecosystem, and identify as LGBT+: consider applying! We will be considering nominations until December 2022.