Allyn Shaw is the Global Information Security Chief Operating Officer at Bank of America, where he’s risen through the ranks for more than a dozen years. He’s also a passionate advocate for all aspects of diversity and inclusion – he’s the chair of the bank’s Global Technology and Operations (GT&O) LGBT Council, serves on the bank’s LGBT Executive Council, is the Forum executive for GT&O Supplier Diversity, and is affiliated with the Black Executive Leadership Council. This year he also became a board member of LGBT+ nonprofit Out and Equal.
Allyn says the most important thing he’s ever learned from a boss is “humility: When we think about humility, we think about being humble as an individual and putting other people first. As you become more senior, humility takes on an even deeper meaning. Humility becomes about meeting people where they are, understanding the perspective of an individual and building upwards together.
Please describe how and when you first knew you were LGBT+:
Upon reflection, I knew when I was five or six years old. The things I was interested in – literature, science, musical instruments, art – were different from my friends. They wanted to play ball in the street. Of course, at that age, I had no concept of sexual orientation, I just knew my interests – the things I was attracted to and wanted to spend time on – were very different from my friends.
In 25 words, describe how you came out:
I was outed, albeit unintentionally, by someone I called my friend. My mother overheard a friend of mine making an off-color joke about me personally and, in that moment, the decision to come out was made for me. It remains one of the worst moments of my life.
How has coming out, and being openly LGBT+ at work, influenced your leadership approach and style?
The experience of being outed taught me the value of being able to control my own narrative – my voice. Living fully as a very proud and out African American gay man allowed me to be my whole self at home and at work. I don’t need to hide who I am or adhere to any expectations by a colleague, my family or a religious organization.
I hope in bringing my whole self to work and in working with organizations like Out & Equal and Out Leadership to advance workplace equality, I encourage the people I work with to do the same.
Who are your role models?
Growing up, I had three role models. Condoleezza Rice is an exceptional woman who just happens to be African American. She is an expert in foreign policy, not to mention an impressive diplomat and a concert pianist. I was simply in awe of her versatility.
Next was then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, who later would become the first African American to become U.S. Secretary of State. If I had not left Compton, CA, I may have never seen someone who looked like me in such a prominent role. I joined the ROTC program because of Colin Powell.
Finally, Maya Angelou, author of my favorite poem “Still I Rise.” When I doubt myself, the poem reminds me: “I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” Her poems give me confidence in challenging moments. No matter what happens – implied, inferred or otherwise – still I rise.
If you could have any job other than the one you have now, it would be:
When I was growing up in the ’80s, “tinkering” with random computer parts and building computer towers to run my makeshift BBS (bulletin board system), I had no idea these technology skills would turn into the incredibly fulfilling career I have today. I am living my dream, but, if I must give an answer, it would be a diplomat working in the field of diplomacy.
The most important thing I have learned from an employee is:
My employees have taught me the importance of true diversity – not just of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. Spending one-on-one time with people and getting to know them as unique human beings allows you to experience the full potential of the people around you.
If I could tell someone who is graduating from college this year one thing I’ve learned, it would be:
In my experience, recent college graduates often think, because they have an advanced degree with countless hours of invested “hard work,” opportunities will just land in their laps. The reality: you sometimes have to create opportunity. Look for opportunity in times of transition, or bring a fresh prospective to a role in which you know can have greater impact. Commit 100% and pitch something completely different, then ask for the opportunity to prove yourself. It’s all about taking calculated risks.
A time a sponsor helped me take my next step:
A very recent example is when I left the infrastructure organization to join the information security ranks at Bank of America. My sponsor helped me understand how my skills were transferrable. I was doing myself a disservice by not acknowledging the value 25 years of running an infrastructure business would bring to the table. The diversity of my own experience actually made me an ideal candidate for this new opportunity, and it was my sponsor who helped me reach that understanding.
The best interview question I have ever heard is:
“Why you, and why now?”
It really forced me to take inventory of the experience, capability and unique skills I possess that match the business outcomes they were expecting.
My most important Ally is:
We have to be intentional when we use the word “Ally.” It some instances, it has become a synonym for a straight person in support of the LGBTQ+ community. The LGBTQ+ community don’t need straight people to save them, just like women don’t need the heroics of men to save them. We don’t need heroes, we need Allies. Allies are individuals, women or men, straight or LGBT+ who – when it may not be popular – advocate.
My most important Ally is my husband. When I go home and share my day, my husband recognizes my sacrifices, truly hears what I have to say, and gives me support and perspective.
This person is my LGBT+ hero, because:
Growing up, my heroes were all the people who came before me, who gave their lives, who were the first to stand up and stand tall. Who, when they were tired and exhausted, woke up the next day and continued to fight for my rights. They are all my heroes.
Right now, I see that heroism in all the transgender women of color who will not allow society to disregard them or to ignore their voices. Women like Janet Mock, Angelica Ross and the rest of the cast of Pose – these are my LGBT+ heroes today.
My first job was:
Scooping popcorn and taking tickets at General Cinema Theatres in high school.
The most tantalizing leadership opportunity I see in the world right now is:
For today’s LGBT+ leaders to come together to create one agenda, one strategy, with one voice. Leaders like: Erin Uritus – Out & Equal, Todd Sears – Out Leadership and Chad Griffin – HRC are in positions of leadership at a time where our rights as a community are under attack from the very government charged with protecting them. Now is not the time for us to be individual vertical organizations, but come together as one and lead from the front.
The best piece of advice I ever received was:
“What people think or say about you is none of your business. Just be true to yourself and never let anyone steal your joy!”
My motto is:
“If not you, who? If not now, when?”
The next big thing for the global LGBT+ community is:
More LGBT+ people running for office (and winning), filling increased numbers of senior leader positions in large corporations and becoming entrepreneurs in their communities.
The next big step for me in my career could be:
Within the last year, I became a board member of a large LGBT+ nonprofit – Out & Equal – and the Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer of Cyber Security for one of the world’s largest banks. I’m incredibly proud of these accomplishments.
If you were planning a dinner party and could invite any five people from history, who would they be, and why?
What would be the opening song in a movie about your life, and why?
Rise Up by Andra Day. I walked down the aisle to it at my wedding, and it has a very special place in my heart.
The six things I could never live without are:
My favorite vacation destination is:
A cruise ship, heading anywhere. When every day you are in a different location, you are able to experience the dynamic nature of cultures – people, food, language, music and art!
The three books I would take to a deserted island are:
Becoming by Michelle Obama, Steve Jobs and the Encyclopedia Britannica (it’s technically one book, isn’t it?).