What does it mean to be a role model?

Last edited: 26 March 2015

BP’s Tamoor Ali, a senior commercial analyst, has been named Stonewall Role Model of the Year for his work in promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality in the workplace. Here, Tamoor tells BP Magazine what being a role model means to him

On being named Stonewall’s Role Model of the Year…

I was in shock at first. I think I was nominated because of the networks I’ve helped to create inside and outside BP. I’ve been the chair of BP’s Pride network in the UK for the past three years and helped create a new network in Aberdeen, where we’ve brought people together in BP and from other oil companies. We’ve done similar things in Singapore and Bochum, in Germany. I’m very proud of my achievement but I think it also reflects really well on BP’s efforts to support LGBT staff.

On being a role model and why we need them…

Everyone is a role model in some way, it’s just that a lot of the time, we don’t recognise it. We’re all multi-faceted – I’m gay, Muslim and Pakistani. I don’t look at each strand in isolation. I think being a role model to me means being able to identify with who you are, really representing that and working together.

A lot of people, especially in their early careers, look for people like themselves farther up the career ladder – people to aspire to. That isn’t specific to the LGBT community. If you don’t see role models then it takes away hope of being able to do well in an organisation.

On the importance of support networks…

I grew up thinking that I needed to be careful talking about my sexuality, but have realised that if I am not open about it, I can’t necessarily connect with people, just in terms of being able to talk about my life. I kept putting it off with my family as well, thinking that they kind of knew anyway. But when I did tell them, it changed my relationship with them for the better. It changes how you behave in day-to-day life and your mental wellbeing.

In a professional sense, I cannot emphasise how important it is to have a good manager. It helps people to be who they are so that they can focus on delivering the day job. It is not just about them coming to work and doing the spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations. If you give them that extra bit, they will work a lot harder for you; they will want to stay.
"Everyone is a role model in some way, it’s just that a lot of the time, we don’t recognise it. We’re all multi-faceted – I’m gay, Muslim and Pakistani."
- Tamoor Ali

On BP’s Pride network…

The group started up the year I joined BP in 2009. I like to get involved, so, I took on a few projects. I started working on building networks across the organisation and industry, organising events to look at how we might better connect with and learn from each other?

Every time someone joins Pride, we find out what they’d like to get out of the network. We also provide advice and support for people moving jobs and countries. We had someone move from a country where they had been totally open, to a new role in the UK where they initially went back into the closet. We put them in touch with other people in the network, which gave them some space to build up their experience and become comfortable again.

On BP’s Straight Allies programme…

An ally is someone who wants to help make sure that everyone on their team is doing well. It doesn’t have to be LGBT-specific, but, we found it can be easier to talk about gender or ethnicity because they’re visible. We also realised that to really make a difference we couldn’t work alone, we needed to talk to the non-LGBT community as well. So, in 2013, BP began to create a network of straight allies from all levels of the organisation, along with a number of tools for them to use, such as simple tips to help start conversations within their teams, some standard language for senior leaders to use whenever they talk about diversity and an online toolkit for people to learn a bit more about what being an ally means.

We have a lot of allies who joined either because they have a friend, or a son, or a sister who has come out and they just want to be able to understand them better, or to ask the questions that they may be too embarrassed to ask directly. We try to provide a safe space for that.

On BP’s next steps…

We need to keep the momentum up, to carry on talking about what we do. I think that’s important within BP but also with other companies and countries where we operate. It’s not about dictating to anyone, but sharing our values and expecting all of our staff to be treated fairly. I think there is an opportunity to influence the conversation around the world.
  • BP has Pride business resource group chapters in the UK, US and Asia-Pacific and is developing a new chapter in Germany, too.

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