Mark McLane is the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at M&G Prudential. Until the end of 2018, was the Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays; in that capacity, he championed the bank’s global support of our emerging leaders accelerator, OutNEXT. Any OutNEXTers who participated in the Global Summit over the last four years will likely remember his searching discussions of his responsibilities as Barclays’ “Chief Gay Officer.”
Mark has long been passionate about making it possible for employees to bring their whole selves to work. In a 2018 interview, he said: “If you’ve got a barrier up at work, metaphorically speaking, and not being your true self, not only is that detrimental to your general well-being, but it also hinders your confidence which in turn has a negative impact on things like your creativity and productivity.”
Describe how you came out:
I was out personally for a few years before I was out professionally. I was already with my partner at the time and one day, the man who had hired me and recruited me to work at Whirlpool, Don Gamble, who was an old friend, came to our house with his wife and said that they needed to talk to us about something. It all seemed very serious, they came without the kids and looked very worried.
Finally, they told us: “We want to host a barbecue, and invite the executives from Whirlpool Corporation, but we don’t want to put you in a difficult position.” My partner, Carlos said very simply that he would just not come, but there was the whole question of explaining it to the kids and it really didn’t sit right with me. In the end Carlos joined and met several executives (who loved him).
And that’s what really started me moving towards the intersection of diversity and business. But personally, you have to get to the point where you have to make the decision that’s right for you. And there’s one thing I won’t do, I won’t compromise my family in anyway.
In my personal life, my dad and I were always very, very close and after he retired, he came to stay with me in Florida. I was dating someone at the time, and I had kept talking about him as a “friend.” Before he came to Florida, I sat down with him and told him that David and I were more than friends. He looked at me and said, “Well two and two still equals four.” I broke into tears, and he asked me why I was crying.
I was like, “That’s it?” And he said, “Well I had hoped you weren’t gay.” I asked what he meant and he told me, “Not that it changes anything for us. I just don’t want you to go through what I’ve seen friends of mine, or other family members, and the barriers that people put in place. I don’t want you to have to have those difficulties in your life.”
How has being out at work influenced your leadership approach and style?
Coming out and being an authentic leader meant redefining myself.
When I first came out, I made a big mistake professionally. When I became the Chief Diversity Officer at Whirlpool Corporation, I used to say that I wanted to be known as a Chief Diversity Officer who happens to be gay – not as a gay Chief Diversity Officer. Over time I learned that I don’t get that choice. Right? Others are going to decide if they see me as a gay Chief Diversity Officer. But I realized that I was sending an unintended message – I was saying that it’s okay to be different, just not too different.
Though I don’t necessarily think of myself as a role model, I quickly learned that other people see me as one. And so, I remind leaders at all levels: someone else is watching what you’re doing. Someone else sees something that you’ve overcome as the thing that they’re now struggling with, and we have to be cognizant of that. I think that’s been the biggest learning for me, as an Out Leader.
The other part is, once you’ve come out, you’re coming out for the rest of your life. So talking about being an Out Leader to a new audience every time, you need to re-gauge – what does the audience look like, what is the reaction going to be? That softens over time, but there’s still always a moment where you think, “I’m standing in front of 500 people and I’m about to come out again.” For me there’s always that little bit of doubt, until I say the words and no one bursts into flames.
The most important thing I have learned from a boss is:
I have been fortunate to have several incredible mentors in my career. A colleague who had one of the greatest impacts on me was Jeff Fettig, who became the CEO of Whirlpool Corporation. Jeff was an amazing leader, an empathetic leader. I had the great opportunity to work very closely with Jeff both professionally and in the community. He stretched me in ways I didn’t know that I necessarily had the capability to step up; it was Jeff who encouraged me to begin my involvement in the Boys and Girls Club of Benton Harbor which became an important part of my life.
He was my mentoring guide throughout the process. I had never sat on a board before, I had never had a touchstone, someone to go to and bounce ideas off of. It positioned me to be able to be confident in front of the Board of Directors at other companies that I’ve worked with.
David Whitwam, the previous CEO of Whirlpool Corporation was another mentor who had a great impact on me. He said something to me one day that has stuck with me and guided my career. He challenged me to do some work; he saw in the meeting that I had a blank stare on my face. After the meeting, he came up to me and he said, “Mark, have I ever told you how I ran Whirlpool Corporation for 17 years?” And I said, “No, David.” He said, “Strategy, structure, and process.” He went through what that means, and how it affects everything you do, and I have never forgotten that.
If you were planning a dinner party and could invite any five people from history, who would they be, and why?
If I was planning a dinner party and I wanted to invite anyone from the past, it wouldn’t be five people. It would be my parents.
It’s not that I have any regret in my relationship with either my mother or my father, but I would love to just sit across the table from them and ask them what they think, what they see today, “How’d I do”?
If I was talking to my dad today, I would say what I said to my current boss, and that is, “I think I’ve got the best job.” And what I mean by that is, I truly have a global role and an opportunity to have a positive impact in any organization that I’m in. At Barclays, and now at M&G Prudential, my work is about making the environment inclusive so that everyone has an equitable opportunity to succeed and be themselves. If we get that right, that’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing. If we get it wrong, it’s also daunting, but that’s the challenge, and that’s what I love about this work.
The three books I would take to a deserted island are:
I’d just want one book, the Ten Easy Steps to Get Off a Desert Island.