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Life Stories by Shaun

Stories can connect us. Whether we’ve lived a similar experience or not, they can spark conversation and incite change. Through Barclays’ Life Stories, colleagues open up their own worlds, in their own words. This is Shaun’s story, about his experience of overcoming barriers and limited self-belief.

My biggest challenge growing up was being targeted at school for being gay and slightly more feminine – not fitting the mould that was perceived as the ‘typical young male’. I was very lucky to live in a loving and nurturing household, but outside of that, I felt I always had to prove I was ‘man enough’ or just ‘enough’ in general. I became quite insular, and it made me overthink everything I did and said.

Being bullied diminished my self-worth and identity. I carried a lot of emotional baggage and often

played a role in order to protect myself. Then there were my own internal fears. I came from a low

socio-economic and mixed heritage background. Knowing it was illegal to be gay in Jamaica, and the fact it was generally less accepted then than it is today, ultimately made me feel that being gay was wrong.

Living on a council estate with the overarching feeling that I’d never succeed or amount to anything was also very difficult. Often, people who live in social housing are seen to have little ambition and it’s a stereotype that’s easy to perpetuate. So it was challenging, but I knew I wanted more for myself.

Changing my mindset

When I began working at Barclays 15 years ago, I tried to be more of who I really was. Initially I was openly bisexual and over time I let people know I was gay, but it wasn’t easy. I guess the hesitation also stemmed from the intersections of my identity – my race, my sexuality, my economic background. I felt like I needed to act a certain way and adapt to make others feel comfortable in order to succeed in my career.

I started as a Cashier and moved around a few different roles before becoming a Branch Manager. It was then, at 25 years old, when I’d achieved something that previously seemed unachievable, that I became more secure with who I was. I was able to see that I could take my career to new heights while being myself. It didn’t stop me progressing, which meant it wouldn’t stop me doing anything. I was in that role for five years, still battling the belief that I wasn’t worthy of bigger things, but it was a true turning point both personally and professionally.

Being my true self really won the hearts and minds of colleagues. And it's something I’ve been able to do in subsequent roles: breaking down barriers, not being what people expect, challenging the status-quo. I also realised my privilege and what I needed to do to support others like me – creating equity for underrepresented people.

Working at Barclays helped to soften the thoughts and feelings that held me back and inhibited my potential. You’re encouraged to be your true authentic self, and the people and culture here have been a great support for me too. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) make space for open dialogue about different life experiences and there are great policies in place that empower us to speak up when something isn’t right.

And, while all the childhood bullying I experienced did impact my confidence, it’s something that’s shaped me. I’ve been able to use it to my advantage – a lesson on how to get through difficult circumstances. It’s taught me how to be more empathetic. To listen to understand instead of to respond. To challenge where appropriate and stand up for those who may not have the strongest voice in the room.

Using my experience to create change

I think I got the role as DE&I Lead for Barclays UK because of my passion, lived experiences and my ability to engage and influence at a senior level. My role is to lead, encourage, influence and support my colleagues in the implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion in line with Barclays’ goals, ambitions and values.

It’s about creating an inclusive environment across the organisation, where we can all thrive and feel included. I speak about my personal experiences with different colleagues at all levels on a daily basis, while also supporting our ERGs to achieve their ambitions.

My hope is that I’m able to leave things in a better place than I found them. I believe it’s about making things better for the next generation, the next set of colleagues that are coming up through the organisation. DE&I is a priority within Barclays but there are still things we need to work on. I want to help us improve and make people understand why change needs to happen, and the benefit of those changes.

Why it’s important to be yourself

At 36, I’m still learning and there’s still a lot of growth ahead. But my experiences have taught me to have confidence in my abilities. I’m certainly more aware of who I am as a person and constantly challenge myself to be better. If I could say anything to my younger self, it would be: “Believe in yourself. Everything’s going to be ‘ok’, and don’t allow others to stop you being who you really are.”

And to anyone else out there who has a similar story? Think about where you’ve come from and where you want to go, then work out how you’re going to get there. Take the time to put yourself out there, to do more. Don’t be afraid to get something wrong, and reach out for support – you don’t have to do everything alone.

When you’ve experienced not being accepted for who you are, and had to hide or minimise yourself because of it, being authentically you takes a lot of courage. We all struggle to be our true selves sometimes, so it’s important that you discover and understand who you are so you can share that with the world. And then you can allow your personal power to shine.

Shaun, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lead, Barclays UK