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Launching your career as an LGBT graduate

Book open Reading time: 7 mins

My name's Mayur and I'm the founder and CEO of Career Accelerator - an education business helping talented young people from diverse backgrounds to become the future digital innovators of society. I couldn't be happier with where I am in my career, however; as a gay man I have, like so many LGBT graduates, had a variety of positive and negative experiences entering a largely heterosexual dominated workforce.

I attended a hugely homophobic all-boys school

Two years ago I would have never imagined writing an article about being gay, especially in such a public forum such as Bright Network. Growing up I attended a hugely homophobic all-boys school in Harrow. I soon learnt that being gay was something that was to be laughed at and ridiculed for. I regressed from a happy and confident student to an increasingly unhappy and intimidated one. I first told my friends that I was gay one break time in Year 9. By the end of the day the whole school knew and the taunting and harassment I received was so unrelenting that by the end of the year I decided to leave the school. Although I had left, the anxiety and shame I felt endured for years.

Through a combination of childhood isolation, bullying and a lack of positive LGBT representation in the business world, I soon believed that to be successful in my career - and life - I had to hide the fact I was gay. Deep down I felt I was unlovable and the only way anyone would value me is if I excelled in everything I did. I studied Business at the University of Nottingham and over three years I set up an International Housing Business in Nepal, became the Business School President and was chosen to be the International Student Delegate representing Nottingham at the International Student Summit in Singapore.

After University, I joined the leading graduate scheme in the social enterprise sector where I was part of a cohort of 15 other fellows. As usual, I was the only gay person in the room, I felt excluded from my straight peers and so was unable to make the meaningful connections which served them well throughout their careers. This isolation further fuelled my growing internal homophobia - I hated the fact that I was gay and I fantasised about how much better my life would be if I was straight. At this point of my life my anxiety and depression had hit rock bottom and I spent 7 days a week working in the office, often till 1 or 2 am to try and block out my damaging feelings of being lesser than my straight peers. My business was progressing really well however deep down I was miserable and I knew I needed to address this.

A lot of other gay men had experienced what I was going through

I soon began to undergo intensive group therapy where I got the chance to meet other gay men for the first time in my life. I soon realised that despite what I thought, a lot of other gay men had experienced what I was growing through, particularly when they were in their teenage years and in their early 20s. Whilst this didn't solve my problem, I felt relieved that a lot of my challenges were down to my experiences and situation, and not something that was wrong with me. This realisation shifted the onus on me to take responsibility for my situations to make things better for myself.

I realised that having a group of gay friends was super important in order to relate to and seek help from like minded people. Consequently, I browsed all the possible LGBT groups and while this took some trial and error I eventually found: Inter-Tech (an LGBT network for tech professionals), Stonewall UK (an LGBT advocacy organisation) and Frontrunners (an LGBT running group). As a part of these networks I made friends who shared similar experiences to me and in some cases who became valuable business connections - challenging my belief that there was a trade off between being gay and being successful.

I also immersed myself in the thriving LGBT ecosystem, becoming a voracious reader and learning about LGBT history, business leaders and experiences. As opposed to being ashamed of being gay and of the gay community, I gained a newfound respect for the brave LGBT activists, politicians and business leaders who faced immense prejudice and set backs but triumphed. Alongside this, I became intensively curious about what other groups of people in society experienced and read about race, feminism, intersectionality and the pressures of masculinity. Till this day my curiosity for the experiences of different groups of people has been a massive advantage when it comes to building relationships and working empathetically.

Through a combination of being involved with positive LGBT networks and educating myself on diversity in society, my confidence grew massively. To my immense surprise and pleasure, I found that as long as I was open and honest about my sexuality as a gay man, the vast majority of people responded like they would if they were speaking to one of their straight friends. Ever since my terrible time at school, I've been petrified of straight people responding in a homophobic way when I told them I was gay, or of accusing me of shoving my sexuality down their throats; however, from my experience, most people didn't make a big deal of it at all - this realisation meant the world to me.

I couldn’t have anticipated the real benefits of being authentic

All of a sudden, I became a lot more confident since I was no longer hiding my interests or weekend plans. The more positive experiences I had in connecting with people, the more I found the world to be a much friendlier and more connected place. I realised that if I wasn't open about my sexuality - and to a wider extent - my interests, I ran the risk of seeming uninterested in others. In addition to this, I was wasting valuable energy covering up the truth, which could be better spent on my work and hobbies. The more I spoke about my experiences as a gay man, the more I understood that my minority perspective gave me a unique insight that could be an advantage during business and social discussions. Lastly, because I became a lot more comfortable with the merit and value of my interests and hobbies, I was able to start reading books, watching shows and going to events which I was genuinely interested in (as opposed to ignoring these or trying to be interested in other things). This meant that I was a lot more energised and happy in my day-to-day life and I'm grateful that I've gained this through my experience of being a minority.

I commonly find that some of the happiest and most successful people I've had the pleasure to know are those who've faced the most barriers in the earlier parts of their life. I see this a lot with LGBT professionals. While at the time, undergoing lots of therapy, reading and proactive networking was enormously frustrating I now appreciate that all the work I've invested in my mental health and wellbeing has been tremendously beneficial. I have improved my self-regulation and emotional intelligence, which stand as some of my strongest and most value adding skills.

Coming out as LGBT can be a scary process for anyone and you can never be completely sure how people will react, or what the wider implications may be. As such, I think it is so important that you come out in your own time, once you've had the opportunity to process your experiences and feel comfortable enough in yourself to handle whatever the outcome may be. It's also very useful to have an LGBT support system (e.g. group of friends) who you can confide in. It is worth acknowledging that there is every chance you will have some negative responses when you come out, but you do not have to face these alone. I lost a few friends when coming out as a gay which is something I had always feared would happen, however, in retrospect the few people who were embarrassed and nasty about my sexuality were just a drain on my happiness and I'm thrilled we're no longer in touch. It's very rare from my experience that any intelligent person worth knowing would have an issue with socialising or working with someone because of who they choose to love.

I can clearly see how my experiences being gay - whilst very painful growing up - have helped me

Started one year ago, my company, Career Accelerator is now being backed by Teach First, Cambridge University and The Young Foundation. We work with two of the biggest Multi Academy Trusts in the UK and leading digital businesses from exciting tech start ups to some of the biggest companies in the FTSE 100 list. I don’t think my sexuality as a gay man has been a barrier to my role as an education CEO. I can clearly see how my experiences being gay - whilst very painful growing up - has helped me become intensely curious, empathetic and motivated, all of which have helped me grow into the person I am today and scale my business to where it is at the moment. Being a minority for any reason always carries challenges and it's completely natural to feel bitter, intimidated and confused at times. LGBT people are always going to be a minority and the move towards equality has never been linear; however, the realisation that at the end of the day it's up to me to shape the situations in my life has been hugely empowering and allows me to truly feel that anything is possible.