Michael Ebeid is one of Australia’s most visible gay executives. Matthew Wade spoke to him about leaving SBS, workplace inclusion, and inspiring the next generation.

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After more than seven years at the helm of SBS, openly gay chief executive Michael Ebeid has called it quits.

During his time at the broadcasting service he has helped transform the culture by championing LGBTI inclusion and bringing in more diverse programming — including Deep Water, which focused on Sydney’s beat murders, as well as growing coverage of Mardi Gras and queer stories.

He admits that it “feels awful” to leave a job and company he truly believes in, but is excited about his new chapter with Telstra.

“We’ve supported Australians understanding each other better because of our diversity,” he says, “and that’s what I’m really proud of.”

When it comes to being a visible role model for LGBTI people entering the workforce, Ebeid says it’s been wonderful, and something he could never have imagined growing up.

As a 20-something gay man entering the workforce, he had people tell him he shouldn’t come out or else his career would go nowhere.

“I think it’s fair to say attitudes have really changed,” he says.

“All you’ve got to do is prove to your employer that you’re capable of the job, and that has to override any personal factors.

“I certainly didn’t have that when I was 20 — it’s important to show that your sexuality is one part of you, it doesn’t have to define who you are.”

Outside of SBS, Ebeid regularly talks on panels and attends events surrounding workplace diversity and inclusion.

More recently, he was announced one of the inaugural patrons of Pride in Health+Wellbeing, a landmark LGBTI inclusion initiative by ACON that provides support to organisations in the health sector in delivering LGBTI inclusive services.

He says young LGBTI people often approach him at events and tell him what it means to them to see Ebeid as an openly gay and visible executive.

“I do mentor a couple of young people in their careers and have done so for 20 years or so, which I find incredibly rewarding,” he says.

“I learn a lot from understanding what young people are going through nowadays, because in some ways it’s very different to the issues I faced.

“Too many young people hide their sexual orientation at work, and I think that’s quite sad.”

Ebeid hopes that through his time at SBS, as well as any of his future chapters, he can help to inspire and educate employers and employees alike across Australia when it comes to the importance of workplace inclusion.

He says when he was able to bring his full self to work and not worry what others thought, his career blossomed.

“For anybody who’s in the closet, know it takes a lot of energy to constantly lie or cover up your real self, and once you can redirect that energy into more creative or innovative things, life gets much better,” he says.

“Young people starting off in their careers should have confidence in themselves and really believe in themselves, because self-confidence goes a long way.

“I would also advise people to think about the organisations they’re wanting to join and to ask what kinds of LGBTI policies they have.

“It’s important to work for an organisation you feel aligned with as opposed to going somewhere were your personal values aren’t validated… life is short and we should enjoy where we go every day.”

Michael Ebeid will be appearing at the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council’s (AGMC) upcoming ‘Living and Loving in Diversity’ Conference later this month in Melbourne, which will focus on the issues faced by queer, trans, and intersex people of colour.

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