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Interview with Contiki’s CEO Adam Armstrong on being an out gay man at work

A man poses in front of the Taj Mahal.

The ability to be out at work is still not always easy, or indeed possible for some. Feeling both comfortable and safe to express your sexuality and who you are might be something a lot of us take for granted, particularly if it conforms to a heteronormative ideology.

In truth, the spectrum of sexuality and people’s sexual orientation is vast, and the more we talk openly about this the more we can de-stigmatise existing stereotypes and prejudices. Who we are extends way beyond our sexual orientation; equally, it’s part of the package that contributes to our individuality. And that’s something to be celebrated!

To commemorate Pride month, we spoke to Adam Armstrong, CEO at Contiki, about his experience being an out gay man at work.

What does it mean for you to be out at work?

Being out at work is a non-negotiable for me and it plays a really big part in who I decide to work with.  We spend so much of our lives at work so it needs to be a place where colleagues – and particularly the leadership team – embrace diversity and equality; where I can be my complete self.  When I go for job interviews it’s part of my exploratory process to get a feel for how comfortable they’d be with that, especially with the CEO (it starts at the top!).  And when I am interviewing for members of my own team, it’s also something that I include in the conversation with them.

What encouraged you to be out and proud at work – was there an experience, moment or encounter that prompted this?

In my first job after Uni, I wasn’t out. I decided not to put that on the table with so many new people, but it was hard. I started making stuff up, diverting conversations… It’s mentally draining because we’re busy enough at work as it is without inventing a made-up home life.  Eventually, I revealed my ‘secret’ to a few colleagues over drinks at my leaving party – and it really was a non-issue.  That was the night I decided to take a different path at my next job and I haven’t looked back since.  That being said, I have to admit that I have been very lucky to work in countries, cities and travel companies where diversity is more commonplace than others.

How can we make workspaces as inclusive as possible?

Diversity in the workplace is a good thing in general – be that gender, age, religion, sexuality or anything else.  It leads to better work environments for employees and better decision making for the business.  So I think if you see a company that publicly values diversity, and has policies to maintain or increase it, then that’s a great start. You can pick this up relatively easily in the bios of the leadership team, on their brand website, on their socials and so on.  It’s particularly empowering to see senior business leaders who are out at work and serve as great role models. 

More broadly it’s important that we spread a positive message, talk openly about who we are, set an example, and keep breaking down barriers because we’re not at the end of the road yet.

Why is it still important to have conversations about LGBTQIA+ identity at work?

We generally spend more time at work than at home (pandemics aside!) so it’s a critical place to see LGBTQIA+ people in the workplace, to talk about our issues there and to educate our colleagues.  Firstly, the LGBTQIA+ community is more diverse than ever.  When I started working over twenty years ago the acronym was simply ‘LGB’ so it’s more complicated today and we certainly need to continue raising that awareness. 

And secondly, the battle for equality and acceptance isn’t over.  For example, even in Switzerland where I live, same-sex marriage is not yet legal, although there’s a referendum coming soon.  We need to keep having these conversations and work is a good place to start them which, in turn, will prompt discussions with friends and family back at home or in the pub.

What steps can allies take in and out of the workplace to play their part in advancing LGBTQIA+ equality?

There’s a whole range of things you can do here. Having a Pride month at your office, offering products tailored to the LGBTQIA+ community, setting up an LGBTQIA+ group, good recruitment decisions and so on.  Pride is not just one month of the year though, it’s all year-round.

What advice would you give to a queer person entering the workplace today?

We’ve come a long way since I entered the workplace but I’d still recommend being a little cautious at first. Quickly get a feel for your colleagues and your company’s diversity policies.  Not every company or location is created equal – yet.  But the old adage really is true here, that honesty is the best policy.  Be out and proud if you can.

What does Pride month mean for you?

Pride means many things to me.  On one side there is a campaign and protest element, reminding everyone that our battle is not yet over in terms of achieving complete equality and acceptance.  On the other side, there’s a celebration of how far we’ve come in such a short time.  Ultimately, Pride is a 365-day, 24/7 movement, and one that we should be supporting all year round.

Adam Armstrong, CEO Contiki

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Adam Armstrong has just celebrated his one year anniversary as the CEO of Contiki.