In 2017 Scentre Group launched our LGBTI+ working group as part of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program. At the time Chris Zerial, Westfield Sydney Centre Manager, had worked with us for three years but had never come out as identifying as a gay man in work.
When asked to lead our LGBTI+ working group, Chris took a leap of faith, publicly coming out to his professional network on our intranet, MyScentre, and LinkedIn.
Looking back Chris shares some new perspectives about the experience speaking as a guest on Clayton Utz’s podcast.
As Chris highlights in the podcast, it’s important we continue to share these stories because there is always more work to be done for us all to understand why it’s important to be overtly supportive sometimes, to build our knowledge and understanding of each other’s differences so we can be respectful and embrace them in order that we can create a truly inclusive workplace for everyone.
Chris continues to lead our LGBTI+ working group advocating for inclusion. The working group’s continued efforts to date saw Scentre Group recognised as a Silver employer at the AWEI Awards in 2022.
You can listen to the full podcast (15 minutes) or enjoy some excerpts below.
Can you tell us what work like at work before you came out?
Chris: “I think it was a really different experience before coming out. Not just where I work now but also in all of the other roles I had prior to working at Scentre Group. It always felt like you couldn’t truly connect and you’re always trying to hide something wherever you go, because you never know who will have a certain view of what it’s like to identify as a gay man.”
Why did you choose to come out in 2017?
Chris: “At that time Alan Joyce was being really overt about supporting the LGBTI+ community and I thought, if I want to be any sort of leader in the future then I need to be my authentic self. And if my authentic self doesn’t work at Scentre Group then I need to find a new place to work.”
Why did you choose to come out on LinkedIn?
Chris: “My Manager, who knew through mutual friends that I identified as a gay man, had asked me to join the launch of the LGBTI network at Scentre Group. First, I said no, but then looking at Alan Joyce I thought it was about time. So I went back to him and said I’d help out. His response was that he’d resigned so did you want to lead it? Which of course I went on to do.
“We wanted to share a story internally about my lived experience of coming out and then the team asked: can we put it on LinkedIn Chris? And I just thought OK, let’s go for it. The story just exploded. I’ve never looked back and I’ve never regretted it.”
How did your experience at work change afterward the story was posted?
Chris: “I did not experience a single piece of negative feedback. I didn’t have anyone treat me differently. And I realised that actually it was completely OK.
“As we were on a journey as an organisation at that time, initially a lot of people would not have understood why you need to support the LGBTI+ community. But that’s where story sharing is so important. I think my coming out story helped people understand because it showed how raw and emotional and vulnerable someone has to be to do that.
“What coming out meant for me, was that I let the shackles go and I relaxed into myself a lot more. Coincidentally my career took off at that point as well. I can’t quite say 100% it’s because of coming out, but I think it really allowed me to feel more comfortable and confident in who I was as a leader and as a person, and not having to keep them both separate. It worked really well for me.”
Is there any advice you give to someone coming out?
Chris: “Do it in your way and your own time, and there’s no pressure.
“If you feel ready and you want to come out, I would suggest thinking about if there’s an ally network and have you got supporters? You can start small.
“Also, look at the environment you’re in and make sure you’re choosing organisations that truly value an inclusive culture.”
If you’re interested in joining Scentre Group and achieving your career aspirations, explore the current job opportunities we have available: https://careers.scentregroup.com/en/listing
We embed a culture of diversity and inclusion to empower our people to feel comfortable and safe to bring their whole selves to work. We know achieving that is essential if Scentre Group is to be the place for talent to thrive.
Our Diversity and Inclusion Council includes seven employee-led working groups: Gender Equity, LGBTI+, Domestic and Family Violence, Mental Health and Wellbeing, All Abilities, Reconciliation Action Plan and Multicultural Capability. Each working group aims to raise awareness and understanding through education on their unique topic.
This year we were honoured to be named as a Silver Employer in the AWEI 2022 Australian LGBTQ Inclusion Awards.
Our goal is to keep building inclusive capability, so it is just the way we work at Scentre Group.