ONE of Australia’s most senior openly-gay executives has told the Star Observer that LGBTI people embarking on their careers should always be open and honest about who they are, including when it comes to their sexuality.

It’s easy to say but Frank Costigan (pictured above, right), the chief financial officer of Insurance Australia Group’s direct division, which includes NRMA Insurance, recognises it’s harder to do in practice. He even admitted he didn’t follow his own advice for many years.

“I came out quite late – in my late 30s. I’d worked in investment banking in the late 90s and early 2000s and I’m not sure it was that supportive [so] it was a big step,” he said.

However, it was arguably a worthwhile step as Costigan’s sexuality has proved no hindrance to his ascension of the corporate ladder with the executive now taking time out of his day to mentor budding Alan Joyces and Paul Zahras through Out for Sydney, an organisation supporting young LGBTI professionals.

Out for Sydney, which was founded in late 2013 and focuses on university students and recent graduates, has seen attendance at its networking events triple since launch while the number of people in its mentorship program has doubled.

As well as Insurance Australia Group, Out for Sydney has also partnered with big name auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young, the Boston Consulting Group and law firms Herbert Smith Freehills and Baker & Mckenzie.

The organisation has told the Star Observer they now intend to expand nationwide under the new name of Out for Australia with events kicking off in Melbourne in April.

“It sounds corny,” Costigan said on his reason for becoming an Out for Sydney mentor, “but I wanted to give something back to people who’ve been on a similar journey to me because it’s not always easy.”

He added that his role is “about being a sounding board, bouncing ideas around and equally for me to bounce ideas around these guys and they can say ‘that’s a bit silly Frank, why would you think that?’

“It’s a great two way conversation.”

Costigan’s advice to graduates chimes with Out for Sydney’s stated mission to enable young LGBTI people to be open about who they are while having a successful career.

“At the end of the day, you’re the only one who has to look at yourself in the mirror and say you’ve been honest with what you’re doing and I think if you’re true to yourself all the way through, you’ll do fine,” he said.

Michael Bellemore, who Costigan mentors (pictured), says the similarity in their career paths meant they were an obvious pair.

“He was a cadet at a big four accounting firm, I was as well, and [I’ve consulted] Frank as to how I should position myself not just with colleagues at the same level but with senior colleagues and being out or not,” he said.

Out for Sydney president Matthew Yeldham said the organisation has “grown astronomically” and as well as a plan to expand nationally they will also be broadening their remit from law and finance to media, marketing and advertising industries.

“Students are clearly saying, why hasn’t this existed previously and coming to us with issues such as, how do I come out in the workplace and what sort of conversations should I be expecting,” he said.

However, the newly-minted Out for Australia will be entering a crowded space with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association and Globe Melbourne both offering mentoring and network opportunities.

Yeldham is unfazed: “Other events have tended to focus on young or established professionals but our niche is university students and part of the reason is there is very little information on how sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status could affect their careers.

“We help to make the transition from university to the workplace for LGBTI students.”

Yeldham said he personally knows LGBTI people who have suffered anxiety at work due to their sexuality.

“Some people struggle with coming out and if we can help them make a more informed decision and get the information and strategies they need, that goes a long way to advancing personal and professional lives,” he said.

Out for Sydney’s next networking event will be in Sydney next month with full details on April’s launch in Melbourne to be released soon.

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(Photo credit: Samuel Hoare Event Photography)

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