Pride Month 2023: Breaking Barriers With Business Education – Lionel Choo
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.
Lionel Choo has had a varied career. After spending five years serving in the Singapore Armed Forces as a Captain and Company Commander, Lionel channelled his leadership skills into to hospitality sector, working with global names such as Mariott, overseeing no fewer that 12 hotel openings in different EMEA cities in 2021 alone.
Today, Lionel is a Travel, Hospitality and Leisure Advisory Manager for Deloitte UK, covering Europe the Middle East and Africa. He gained his BSc in International Hospitality Management from EHL Hospitality Business School.
How did your experiences as an LGBTQ+ individual influence your decision to pursue a business education and career?
Encountering prejudices as an LGBTQIA+ individual, in Singapore, early in life instilled in me resilience and a deep sense of empathy for others who felt marginalised or side-lined by society. The hospitality sector attracted me as it was a field where I didn’t need to seek “permission” to excel, a place where empathetic individuals could indeed thrive.
This career path and my education have allowed me to express more authentic, liberated versions of myself in all facets of life. Now, I aspire to exemplify to younger LGBTQIA+ individuals that they, too, can flourish personally and professionally.
Did you encounter any specific challenges or obstacles related to your LGBTQIA+ identity during your time in business school or in your career afterwards? How did you navigate them?
During school I downplayed my LGBTQIA+ identity due to unnecessary concerns about perception. Upon graduation, however, I chose to embrace and openly express my authentic self, largely thanks to the support of my friends and partner. This liberating shift allowed me to focus on growth, ambitions, and those who mattered most.
Despite the positivity, there were moments of adversity, such as when former colleagues attempted to undermine my contributions based on my sexuality. After leaving that company, I’ve experienced no such difficulties. I strongly believe in aligning with organisations that foster safe, inclusive environments, allowing us to perform at our best.
How have you seen attitudes and inclusivity towards LGBTQIA+ individuals evolve within the business sector since you started your career?
The professional landscape has transformed significantly from when I first started in Asia. Previously, LGBTQIA+ issues were seldom discussed openly, and being a known member of the community could become a contentious topic. Today, the world is more educated, more inclusive, and actively working to dismantle bias against the LGBTQIA+ community.
While progress continues, the shift is encouraging. The hospitality and management consulting industries, for instance, embrace diversity. Businesses now host numerous D&I activities to promote inclusive work environments. For instance, I’ve shared my work experiences as an LGBTQIA+ individual with students. To hasten progress, I believe we need more LGBTQIA+ individuals in leadership roles to inspire and pave the way for others.
What advice would you give to other LGBTQIA+ individuals who are considering pursuing a business education or starting a career in the business sector?
Embrace your authenticity and live a singular, truthful life. Concealing aspects of yourself, particularly LGBTQIA+ identity, can be draining. Owning my truth has empowered me to concentrate on what truly matters.
Seek organisations that value the strength of diversity and inclusion. Forge friendships, as having allies in the workplace eases the journey and fosters mutual support. Everyone’s journey is unique, and if you’re further along the path, extend your hand to those who might need guidance and support!