Breaking The Taboo Around Open Expression In The Workplace – Diego Lazaro
To mark PRIDE month, we’re sharing the stories of inspirational business school students and alumni around the world who are using their business school experiences to make the world a more inclusive, place.
Diego Lazaro is the founder of, and consultant at Be Diverse, providing online LGBT+ training and workshops to companies that are open to improve their diversity & inclusion strategy. His skills and expertise, brought from previous roles in Human Resource Management, the hospitality sector and backed by a Bachelor’s Degree in International Hospitality Management from EHL Hospitality Business School in Switzerland, and a Master’s degree in Human Resources from EAE Business School in Spain, have enabled him to become a leader in making organisations more open, accessible, and progressive for all. Companies that have benefitted from his tutelage include IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Airbus, amongst others.
Could you tell us about your business and what it does?
Be Diverse, provides innovative Consulting and Training services to companies that are willing to reinforce their brand reputation and being ranked as top employers, in order to attract the best possible talents.
What makes us unique is our expertise in D&I (diversity and inclusion) and more specifically in the field of LGBT+ inclusion. The consulting services we provide to companies aim at improving both their human resources strategy as well as their stock exchange rating by implementing corporate social responsibility initiatives.
We therefore support businesses throughout their implementation process, from conducting an initial diagnosis, through designing tailor-made action plans and defining measurable performance objectives.
Be Diverse is being approached every month by innovative companies from solid sectors of the economy such as pharmaceutical, software’s, services, banking and a few others which want to gain the best talents in the workforce.
All that process defined by Be Diverse, is underpinned by a variety of workshops on general awareness topics and more specific trainings for Human Resources staff and Directors on inclusive recruitment, employer branding, communication strategy and performance indicators (among others).
What has your experience been in launching a business as an LGBTQIA+ founder?
My experience has been a real adventure and an emotional rollercoaster! As an LGBT+ person specialised in this topic, I felt emotionally involved and motivated by my company’s mission. Since the discussion around this subject within the corporate world remains modest, it is a challenge to convince businesses of the importance of addressing and making these issues a priority on their agenda. In the US and the UK, diversity issues have been part of the public debate for years, but in Continental Europe it’s only starting now.
What I have found is that most companies that started working on the LGBT+ topic are big corporations or tech companies. Why does everyone want to work for Amazon or Google? Because they have many resources, yes, but mostly because they have identified the need to create the right inclusion policies, to attract, recruit and retain the best employees. They have created the right environment where everyone feels welcomed.
When launching my business, what surprised me the most was the fear and taboo that prevails around this question in the workplace, even within the LGBT+ community. Many of my friends who were supporting me in private became very shy when it came to recommending me to their own company. Some of them admitted that they did not want to be perceived as “the gay activist” in their workplace or did not consider it necessary to have these initiatives because their company was “not big enough”. Since when is a company too small to be inclusive towards its employees?
These situations have made me realise how much there is still to be done and have reinforced my belief in the relevance of my own project. Companies are currently at a turning point where they need to change their operating model to provide a better employee experience which is more in phase with the current social changes.
How did your business education help you launch this business?
During my bachelor’s degree in International Hospitality Management at EHL in Switzerland and the UK, I had a variety of courses ranging from marketing to accounting, economics and entrepreneurship. It was a very hands-on program with a mix of theory and practical work through group projects and internships. I come from a very international background and I am fluent in three languages, which enabled me to meet people from different nationalities and live in several countries during my studies. I have had a wide range of experiences which encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, work in companies of different sizes and observe a wide range of company cultures.
A few years later I completed a Master’s degree in Human Resources Management in Spain which enabled me to understand businesses’ needs from a human perspective. After working in a recruitment firm, in a consulting firm and in General Electric, I learnt how companies are struggling to hire and retain the best talents.
I also noticed that the aspirations of young generations in Western countries are changing very fast. The Y-X and Z generations do not stay loyal to a company for 20-30 years like the “boomers” did. Young people are increasingly driven by a sense of purpose that they want to see reflected in their career. They want to share the same values of the company they work for and be able to bring their whole self to work.
All these experiences helped me set the foundation for my business and gave me the confidence to launch my own project. I believe it’s important to have a solid knowledge in different sectors in order to better understand the risks, trends and opportunities at stake before taking the leap. Find what you are passionate about, find the way to make it profitable and go for it.
Have you experienced any unique challenges from being an LGBTQIA+ entrepreneur?
The first thing that I have been fighting against as an LGBT+ entrepreneur is my own “internalised homophobia”; this self-destructive tendency that we, LGBT+ people, tend to have towards ourselves. This feeling that we are never good enough. This fear of rejection that stops us from being our true selves in all aspects of our lives. This belief that because we are a minority group, our fight for equality is not legitimate.
When you are an LGBT+ entrepreneur I guess you have these fears on top of all the self-doubt that any entrepreneur has when starting a business. However, I also managed to turn into a strength: my difference has built my specific resilience, drive and motivation.
The second challenge that I have faced is the current backlash that is happening around the so-called “woke theory”. Being “woke” initially meant being informed and educated about the social injustices that were (and still are) happening towards the Black community in our society. However, this term has recently been used as an insult against all progressive ideas.
Some people believe that talking about LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace is also part of the “woke attitude”; as a result, we are experiencing an important backlash in Western countries.
In the US for example, many states are going backwards in terms of LGBT+ rights, while in Europe, several extreme right-wing governments are questioning legal gains that were achieved years ago.
My main challenge is to make people understand that being LGBT+ is a social and economic issue that is crucial for the future of any private company. The purpose of my project is to bring this awareness to the business world and to help build a society were we all fit, no matter our differences. I would also like the business world to understand that it’s a win-win solution. While they become more inclusive and make life fairer for LGBT+ workforce, companies also gain more respectability and reputation.
“The purpose of my project is to bring this awareness to the business world and to help build a society were we all fit, no matter our differences.”– Diego Lazaro
How important is it to get more LGBTQIA+ people into executive roles, and how can we do so?
Society is diverse and so should companies be. Having role models is important for young people who are forging their personality and entering the labor force. Having someone to look up to is potentially very empowering and there has been a lack of these models in the LGBT+ community.
In the early stages of my career, I had to get back into the closet at work because I did not feel comfortable being myself. At the time the few role models I had were all closeted in the workplace. I felt like I could not be 100% myself and that I had to hide a part of my personality, in order to fit in the professional mould. This is hugely detrimental to people’s ability to connect with their colleagues or managers, and ultimately, to get promoted within the company.
From a business perspective, companies have a huge interest when it comes to including LGBT+ people. They have interests all along the value chain of a company, inclusion can potentially be important for employees, clients, suppliers etc. All these people may also be LGBT+ community members or supporters. Therefore, creating an environment where LGBT+ people can reach executive positions will automatically give another perspective to the business, generate more innovation, reduce employee turnover and improve company’s profits. It can also make the company match with the social responsibility criteria and improve its image amongst the public.
In order to do so, companies must create a work environment through: setting nondiscrimination policies, providing specific training on LGBT+ vocabulary and concepts, analysing good practices and training HR professionals on inclusive recruitment practices. These initiatives must be supported with a dedicated branding campaign showing internally and externally that you are a committed employer.
More specific policies can be implemented to include trans people in the workplace since their unemployment rate is much higher than the average: specific recruitment programs, offering them scholarships, collaborating with local NGOs, setting up a “gender transition protocol” etc. In order to become a leader in the field of D&I, any company must align its policies in the right respectful direction.