Gender Equity, Disabilities, LGBT+, Origins And Generations – Fabien Figula Letort
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.
Fabien Figula Letort undertook his MSc Management at emlyon business school in France and, after graduating in 2005, embarked upon a career which utilised his skills to build a more sustainable, diverse and accepting world.
Today, Fabien is the Co-founder of AFL Diversity, a company which supports businesses in becoming more inclusive by designing tailor-made diversity and inclusion-focused programmes.
Could you tell us a bit about your business and what it does?
I founded AFL Diversity two and a half years ago with my husband Adrien. At AFL diversity we help companies and organisations be more inclusive. We do this on all diversity topics: gender equity, disabilities, LGBT+, origins and generations.
We organise a lot of collective intelligence workshops as we believe that most of the solutions already exist, and employees usually know what to do when it comes to inclusion. So, we help those ideas rise and come to reality. We also do a lot of training with management teams, HR, managers etc. to make them understand the link between business and diversity and inclusion programs.
We also created an “Awards Ceremony” in France, rewarding the best initiatives of companies on inclusion (in partnership with UNESCO and Minister of Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities), so that it can inspire those who do not know where to start or how to improve diversity and inclusion in their organisations.
As both of us have been for over 15 years in big corporations and part of management teams, we know the reality of our clients. We understand the tension between short term results and what seems to be only “employee well-being”. So, we help them understand the need for D&I plans.
What has your experience been of launching a business as an LGBTQ+ founder?
When I came out to as gay myself, at the time I had good results at school, so I set myself the goal of being over-performing and having a great career so that when people would discover that I am gay, I would be so high-performing that it would compensate the risk of being rejected. This is what drove me for a lot of years. And maybe still does.
When I launched my business, I had already had a successful career of 15 years with a great performance track record. So, this is what I put on the forefront in my pitch. And after few months I saw that presenting ourselves as a couple was as well a benefit, more than a risk. At least it helps us sorting out the companies and leaders who are at ease with diversity… Since if working with gays is an issue, I am not sure that their objective of having an inclusive company is sincere…
How did your business education help you launch this business venture?
At emlyon business school I learned a lot about entrepreneurship, as well as being creative in business, being agile et always think out of the box. These are competencies I used a lot in my previous company, and that are key today for me as a business owner. When you are an entrepreneur, you need to be all over the place on sales, marketing, finance and management. My business education gave me the competencies for that and I think the confidence to go for entrepreneurship. At emlyon business school we did a lot of real-life experiences of launching businesses and helping businesses to develop, that I felt ready to do it myself.
Have you experienced any unique challenges from being an LGBTQ+ entrepreneur?
I have launched my business with Adrien, my husband. Funny thing is that as we have the same name, most people think we are brothers! This is because of people’s bias. As there are not that many gay leaders out in the world and even less working as a couple, the first reaction is that we are brothers.
The business we have launched, of helping companies be more inclusive, is totally in line with who we are as gay founders. I think it has helped us to convince others that we know what we are talking about. But some companies did not want to work with us as they were afraid we would be too militant… This shows that the LGBTQ+ topic in companies appears as a tricky topic in Europe. Some still think it is a personal topic, which has no place within the company.
I believe that they forget two things: first we are not talking here about “sexual practice” but “romantic orientation”, family life, holidays, birth and death; second, we are one and only person, there is not the personal-self and the professional-self, and our private life has already entered professional life, at coffee breaks, lunch or when we talk about our holidays etc.
How important is it to get more LGBTQ+ people into executive roles, and how can we do so?
Role models are key when it comes to minorities.
First, they set the path and open the ways to other LGBT+. They also show to non-LGBT+ that despite being a part of a minority they can deliver as good as those from the majority. So that being LGBT+ is in fact not a topic when it comes to performance.
Second, it shows to young LGBT+ people that it is possible to have a career, and to be successful in business and in their professional life.
To do so, companies need to talk about it. It needs to be a subject in companies before it becomes a non-subject. This means training and conferences on LGBT+, this means reviewing HR processes to ensure they are not discriminatory, this means onboarding top management and giving those LGBT+ leaders visibility, if they agree of course.