James Fowler started his career at Shell as a Graduate Mechanical Engineer in what he describes as a “careful, controlled, and closeted way”.

Although he saw Shell as an accepting and caring work environment, he was still concerned about covert homophobia and didn’t want to be labelled based on his sexual orientation.

Fast-forward three years, and James is co-founder and President of Kaleidoscope, Shell Australia’s LGBTI+ Network, which aims to enable an inclusive work environment where all employees, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, are given equal opportunity to reach their full potential.

By the time I was 19, I had come out as gay to my family and friends but, as is the case with a lot of LGBT+ people, I “re-entered” the closet when I joined the workforce in my chosen career.

For me, a big reason for being closeted when I first started at Shell was that I wanted to be judged on my performance and skills and I was determined not to be known as “the gay engineer”. Shell has an incredible work culture where inclusion and diversity are valued and over time I learned it was a safe space to be myself. I also saw an opportunity to make a difference at Shell beyond my mechanical engineering role.

While working on assignment in South Korea, I met Shell staff from around the world and learned there were LGBT+ networks at many other Shell locations. This made me question why we didn’t have a similar network in Australia. Shell Australia’s baseline D&I focus and respectful work environment was great but I knew it could still be improved.

So in March 2017, with the support of the Shell Australia Country Leadership Team and together with straight allies Claire Hamilton and Meredith Prior, I officially launched Kaleidoscope, which is aimed at the LGBT+ community and allies alike. One of the key focuses is raising awareness of LGBT+ inclusion among straight people who work, live or otherwise interact with someone who identifies as LGBT+.

Having this network not only ensures a safer work environment for LGBT+ employees, it also encourages senior leadership engagement to help drive D&I initiatives internally and enables external collaboration with likeminded companies.

I’m so grateful to work for an organization that not only supported the launch of this network but constantly strives to become a more inclusive space for its employees. I look forward to seeing Kaleidoscope continue to reach beyond our corporate head offices to our people in regional Australia.

In my opinion, being out at work still takes considerable courage and is the purest form of activism. It’s a declaration to non-LGBT+ people that you’re comfortable in your own skin and signals to closeted people that they are not alone.

In the short time I’ve been leading Kaleidoscope I’ve had the opportunity to help multiple closeted colleagues as well as colleagues with LGBT+ friends and family with various issues. Being at the beginning of my career, I don’t know if I am viewed as an LGBT+ role model but being able to help others has been very rewarding.

5 factors I believe are important in cultivating an LGBT+ inclusive workplace:


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