THE openly-gay former chief executive of one of the country’s largest retailers has told the Star Observer he would rather wait and marry his partner of 25 years in Australia than join the many same-sex couples travelling overseas to wed.
In his most personal interview since leaving department store David Jones late last year, Paul Zahra has told the Star Observer’s monthly magazine – published today – that he believes all LGBTI people should be out at work and has opened up about his parent’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality.
He left in 2014 following the chain’s purchase by South Africa’s Woolworths Holdings.
In 2012, he raised eyebrows by becoming one of the first Australian CEOs to publicly support same-sex marriage.
It was a move that shocked a number of the store’s customers.
“It certainly upset certain individuals but for every person that I upset I gained 10 customers by making that… statement,” Zahra said.
“It’s about equality and the way I see it my people need to be treated equally and our customers should be treated the same, so I have a strong perspective the government should also see gay people equally.”
Asked if he was disappointed that three years later Australia was seemingly no closer to marriage equality, Zahra said: “Definitely… I’m still left bewildered, I really am.”
“It’s a long haul and it shouldn’t be given the amount of countries that have actually legislated same-sex marriage,” he added.
Prime Minister Tony Abbot has so far refused Liberal MPs a conscience vote on the issue.
Meanwhile authorities in New Zealand have reported that around half of all same-sex marriages in the country are now between overseas residents – many of them Australians.
Zahra said while he respected couples who made the choice to wed overseas, he wouldn’t be making a similar trip any time soon.
“I could shoot off but given my heritage is actually Australia I don’t necessarily want to fly off,” he said.
“I’ve been with my partner for 25 years [and] would love to get married but I would like to do it in my own country and for that reason I’ll wait.
“I want the Australian government to actually acknowledge my marriage here.”
Australian Marriage Equality (AME) national director Rodney Croome congratulated Paul Zahra on his “continued leadership” on marriage equality.
“He was one of the first corporate leaders in Australia to publicly support marriage equality and now we see his leadership paying off with more and more CEOs endorsing the reform,” he said.
Last month, Qantas, SBS, Football Federation Australia and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) signed an open letter, backed by AME, in support of same-sex marriage.
Today, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) announced that Zahra will join its diversity advisory board to help the professional services firm with its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
PwC Australia chief executive Luke Sayers said: “Paul obviously gets diversity and inclusion and the fact he can talk about it from personal experience, leading an organisation made him the perfect choice.”
Sayers added that a recent staff meeting, “[Zahra] pointed out so many things that straight men and women wouldn’t think about that impact your ability to fit in and be part of an organisation”.
Zahra said he was wary of organisations that had a less rigorous approach to diversity.
“The challenge is ensuring companies are not ticking boxes and just trying to achieve a target because it looks good but are operating authentically – knowing it is the right thing to do for their staff and makes good business sense,” he said.
Paul Zahra’s full interview can be read in the May issue of the Star Observer, available today in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra. Click here to find your nearest distribution point to collect your free copy. It is also available online in digital flip-book format.