When Dean O’Reilly took his first step on the career ladder he felt that he needed to keep his sexuality to himself.
Growing up in a small village in rural Ireland — one that was very “traditional” in its mindset — the tech graduate wasn’t exposed to any out and proud members of the LGBTQIA+ community, which left him feeling the need to hide his identity.
“There were no visible gay people when I was growing up,” says the now Melbourne-based Amazon employee. “That definitely impacted me, and delayed my coming out. It also meant that, when I got my first job, I had the belief that my sexuality should remain a secret. I felt that, if the company was aware of me being gay, it could legitimately impact my chances of succeeding.”
It’s a story that is, unfortunately, all too familiar to many LGBTQIA+ people around the world. Not being ‘seen’, and not having a support network, or positive role models to look up to, can often result in feelings of shame, isolation, and the belief that you’re on your own.
Heartwarmingly, for Dean, his coming out at work journey took a turn for the better when he joined Amazon in Ireland in 2017.
Out and proud in the workplace
“When I joined Amazon the first thing I noticed was how friendly everyone was”, he recalls. “Nobody was too busy to connect for a coffee, or quick huddle to say ‘hello’.”
“Once I had the security and support pillar around me, I felt safe enough to fully come out. And it became obvious pretty quickly that there was no issue about it!”
Camaraderie and openness aside, there’s one feature of Amazon as an employer that Dean cites as the key motivation for revealing his sexuality at work: glamazon.
“glamazon is Amazon’s LGBTQIA+ employee affinity group. It is focused on identities and orientations outside the cisgender, heterosexual default. Along with well-known Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer identities, we welcome identities that have been marginalised or are just becoming known”, Dean explains.
“I got involved with glamazon in my early days at Amazon in Ireland”, says Dean. “I’m a people person — I love meeting new people, and glamazon allowed me to build a network of similarly-minded folk.”
Dean points out that there are now 60 active glamazon chapters around the world that work with Amazon's People, Experience and Technology Solutions and business teams to create an inclusive workplace, host hundreds of community events, and celebrate PRIDE annually – this includes local country leadership and business teams.
Now based in Melbourne where he works as a Cloud Architect with Amazon Web Services, Dean, pairs his day-to-day job with an ongoing role as External Partnership Champion for the Australia and New Zealand branch of glamazon.
“Amazon’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, really is one of the biggest benefits for me as an employee”, says Dean. “It’s so important that companies allow their staff to bring their whole selves to work, and to do everything they can to make everyone feel included. We all have varying backgrounds, ideas and points of view and Amazon respect these diverse perspectives.”
As part of Dean’s remit, he — and his fellow glamazonians — work to help make the organisation a great place to work by educating and informing employees about LGBTQIA+ issues, mentoring employees, promoting diversity and visibility in recruiting, and sponsoring community events locally and globally.
The importance of PRIDE
Whilst we have undoubtedly made major gains in creating safe and welcoming workplaces, the sad reality is that many people who identify as LGBTQIA+ still worry that revealing their sexuality at work will have negative consequences. Of particular concern — both at home and abroad — are the recent attacks on our Trans and Gender Diverse communities.
Though progress has been made, there’s clearly still a lot to be done for protections and equal rights. And this is why Dean says that the work being done by glamazon — alongside similar organisations — and PRIDE events are so important.
“A lot has changed for the better, but there’s still a long way to go,” he says matter-of-factly. “It’s great to bring people together to create a better outcome, not only for our employees, but for communities”, he enthuses. “Plus, by working together as a whole, we can cause real change.”
“As part of the glamazon ANZ board, I know we are working with the company to deliver inclusion and diversity training across all business units and all levels within the units. Education is our key to raise awareness, promote understand and correct unconscious bias among our teams.”
This year, glamazon Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) was a proud supporter of Midsumma Festival (Melbourne’s premier Queer arts and cultural celebrations) and the Mardi Gras Film Festival.
“For me, personally, this is the time of year when I look around and see the level of support we have as a community to take pride in ourselves,” says Dean. “It’s a time when I take extra pride in myself, I’m proud to be gay, and I’m proud to be part of a movement that is really pushing for acceptance for all. I’m proud of those within the community for driving this cause forward, and also to our allies and supporters, who also embrace PRIDE.”
“However, it’s also a time when I reflect and think about other minorities who still struggle for acceptance, and for those people throughout the global who still face discrimination, hate crimes, and violence on a daily basis, all for trying to be themselves.”
Supporting a new generation
It’s this quest for universal acceptance that is a driving force for Dean. Knowing firsthand the importance of feeling visible and of being included — both inside and outside of the workplace — he is determined that new employees don’t endure the same insecurities that he did.
“Being ‘seen’ is what I love about our workplace here at Amazon in Australia — and that comes from top down”, he explains. “I've seen PRIDE being celebrated from leaders across the organisation, from managing directors, to heads of business units.”
Dean has come full circle from the graduate he was six years ago, who felt the need to hide his sexuality, and is living proof of the positive impact that progressive workplace policies can have on an individual’s life. Now, he’s looking to a brighter, more inclusive future, both for himself and the rest of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow family.
“I didn’t have that older, positive gay role model to look up to when I was growing up, which definitely impacted how I viewed myself,” he reflects. “So if I can be that person for someone else now — to help make their coming out experience less traumatic, to let them know that they’re not alone, and to help avoid some of the hurt and upset that I went through, well, that makes it all worthwhile.”