Business Council CEO apologises to transgender community

business council of australia jennifer westacott
Image: Pride in Diversity

Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott has apologised to transgender and gender diverse colleagues on behalf of the business community for the “cruelty and unfairness” of the federal election campaign.

Jennifer Westacott issued the apology in a powerful speech at this year’s Australian LGBTQ Inclusion Awards in Sydney on Friday. The ceremony is hosted by workplace inclusion organisation Pride in Diversity.

“I want to apologise to our trans and gender diverse colleagues and friends,” she said.

“I want to apologise for the hurt you have endured, the cruelty you’ve been subjected to and for the fundamental misinformation and unfairness over the last year, but particularly during this election.

“We had a national pile-on in some quarters on one of the most vulnerable groups in our society – the transgender community.

“We saw incomprehensible hatred, and to what end?”

Westacott said she and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, both co-patrons of Pride in Diversity, wanted to sincerely apologise.

“Not because we said those things. Not because we caused the hurt, but because somebody must,” she said.

“On behalf of all Australians who want our society to be a bit kinder, more understanding and vastly more respectful and civil, Alan and I humbly, respectfully, and sincerely apologise.”

Jennifer Westacott recalls ‘loneliness and isolation’ of coming out

Jennifer Westacott has been with partner Tess for 35 years. She explained while she is not transgender, she had experienced “crippling loneliness and isolation” after coming out as gay earlier in her career.

“I understand what it means to be rejected by your family and friends,” she said.

“I understand the humiliation we experience in so many day-today encounters.

“A doctor wrote on my file, ‘Jennifer has social problems, she is in a relationship with a woman’. I do have many social problems, but being in a relationship with a woman isn’t one of them.”

Westacott went on, “I understand the fear and worry when you turn up to work and every single new encounter is potentially a rejection, the loss of your employment status, or the loss of your job.

“I understand that there is only one choice you have to make. It is not a flippant or superficial ‘lifestyle choice’.

“Instead, it’s a difficult and often agonising decision to either be yourself or to pretend to be someone else.”

The Business Council of Australia CEO said employers striving to create inclusive and respectful workplaces is “a win-win” and “smart business”.

She said businesses like Coles and Westpac had put forward “ambitious agendas” to support trans and gender diverse staff.

“When every person can be their best selves at work they’re happier,” Westacott said.

“They’re more productive, they’re more creative, they’re more loyal, and they’re more likely to stay with their current employer.

“By bringing out the best in your people, you bring out the best of your organisation.”

Just over half of Australian employees out at work

Pride in Diversity’s Australian Workplace Equality Index surveys and benchmarks workplace inclusion.

The most recent survey found only 59 per cent of LGBTQ respondents are out at work. That was down from a high of 67 per cent pre-Covid, Jennifer Westacott said.

However the number of queer women out at work had increased and was now equal to gay men.

“With regard to sexual harassment in the workplace, the LGBTQ experience is more prevalent than for straight colleagues,” she said.

“On a positive note, [the LGBTQ workers were] subjected to less inappropriate language since the last survey.”

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