Reed Smith’s Learning and Development Director, Alicia Millar, talks about why everybody needs a voice and why the focus doesn’t need to always be on bringing an “authentic self to work”
Typing the phrase “authentic self” or “bring your whole self to work” into Google will yield hundreds of thousands of results, and while Alicia Millar is not against that maxim she feels it can take away from the main goal. “My biggest fear in professional life is somebody walking through an office, or down the street for that matter, feeling like they don’t belong. I’m always looking out for individuals who feel they don’t have a voice or feel that there is no space for them to share and talk opening about themselves with other people”. Alicia’s concerns stem from her work with the LGBT+ networks, and some of her ideas break away from the accepted discourse.
“I’m an introvert, and the idea of bringing my whole authentic self to work is absolutely terrifying. There are parts of me I want to save for my personal life and don’t need to bring into work. I am very different at the weekends with family or friends and that is okay. That person doesn’t have to show up at the office”. The message around bringing your whole self to work and being authentic at all times can be daunting – and Alicia understands that. “Of course we all want everyone to be themselves, but how much of themselves they bring should be up to them”.
For Alicia, rather than focusing on the “whole self” in the workplace, it should be more on people not having to conceal anything and removing fear and uncertainty for the community.
“My hope for the future around LGBT in professional environments is very simple, it’s people not having to hide. We have come so far, most out LGBT people I come across don’t have to use false pronouns, and feel they can talk about things that might have been taboo five or ten years ago, that’s great.”
“What about role-models and visible out professionals? There are those that do want to shine and those that would rather not have the limelight. I enjoy being at the side of the stage offering guidance and encouragement if that is needed. Or with those of us who are thinkers as opposed to talkers, and those who just get on and do their own thing, I bring much needed support and comradery”.
A lot of the work Alicia does is for the people who don’t shout about what they do, ensuring they know that they have allies and a route to share their stories if they want to. It is Alicia’s awareness that not everyone wants to be a role model or share their coming out journey that enables her to bring her day job to her LGBT professional life.
She began her career at Christie’s, the international auction house, and says she realised there that the basis for an exciting professional life is finding a great organisation and somewhere that you are fascinated by and proud to be part of. This helped her to navigate to her career as she became focused on people following a chance conversation that encouraged her to take this path. “Somebody asked me why didn’t I look at how to develop grads, how to support our exceptional people with training and help grow our world-renowned fine-art specialists and auctioneers, and I loved it, I’ve been in learning and development ever since”. After discovering her passion for people, she spent almost 12 years at magic circle law firm Freshfields, honing her skills and expertise as a learning and development professional, before looking for a new challenge, and finding Reed Smith”.
All of this experience as well as Alicia’s nature gives her a unique perspective. She is a self-confessed introvert who doesn’t like socialising and networking in the evenings and understands when like-minded people are disinterested in a “work” event. “For me it isn’t personal. I hate going to drinks and evening events because I’m a morning person and as my day job dictates that I catch colleagues in the Asia time- zone”. So Alicia is all about breakfast. Spending time with other people while I’m having an amazing breakfast – that works for me – so I channelled my efforts into The Network of Networks LGBT; now after five years rebranded to Nexus. I don’t need to hang out exclusively with other gay people per say, but there does need to be a place for people to find other like-minded people. But a network is so much more than its members”. Nexus is important in and of itself, it helps people to feel secure and comfortable, has the potential to create change in professional environments; it’s not all about networking over breakfast though, Alicia is adamant there should always be thought provoking discussion and learning involved.
At Reed Smith the LGBT+ network PRISM has come a long way since Alicia joined the firm over five years ago. “When I joined there was a network of sorts mainly made up of male lawyers who came together for lunch or drinks, which was fine, but I knew there would be people that weren’t either gay, or male, or lawyers who were not part of the network. We could be doing so much more to cater for the whole community.
PRISM has developed exponentially over the last five years, there are still many social events, there is also a significant focus on building awareness and education throughout the firm, and influencing key D&I activities. There are discussion topics that are pertinent to us, like mental health, intersectionality and parenting. For someone in the LGBT community it could feel daunting to go to a parenting network, but talking about parenting with LGBT parents might be different.” PRISM is so much more than a network, it has become a visible representation of the inclusive culture at Reed Smith, somewhere once again that Alicia is proud to be part of.
“As I’ve said, you might not want to bring all of yourself to work, and it takes a lot of energy to hide any part of yourself. A lot of people around the world still do, so changing that is paramount to me. I never wanted the limelight, but I will always use my platform so that people like me know that they aren’t alone”.