Jeff Kroll smiled brightly as a room of people stayed back after an LGBTQA panel discussion and started engaging and networking with one another. He explained that he was pleased that the panel’s content resonated with the audience and led to more thoughtful discussions and conversation.

Gesturing to the room, Kroll acknowledged the importance of the day’s activity.

“Look at these Vice Presidents, look at these influencers; look at all of these highly successful members of the LGBTQA community,” he said. “They’re all playing important roles inside their organizations, and it’s giving employees permission to bring their whole self – their true self – to work.”

Kroll, who’s the Senior Vice President, McDonald’s Canada Support Officer, was asked to facilitate a discussion panel at Coca-Cola Canada’s headquarters. The event included several members of the LGBTQA community in senior leadership roles, and invited them to speak and share their experiences.

The panel focused on what it’s like to be a business leader from the LGBTQA community – a topic that triggered honest and illuminating stories from the panellists.

Dominic Cole Morgan from Scotiabank, Mark Irvine from Rogers, Lauren Friese from RBC and John LoPorto from McDonald’s USA all shared their personal experiences about being a proud member of the LGBTQA in their professional lives. Their personal stories ranged from uncomfortable encounters with coworkers,  to working alongside supportive and empowering mentors who have helped them embrace their authentic self.

One of the biggest takeaways from the panel discussion was the acknowledgment that organizations and companies have a responsibility to take action and create a safe space where employees who are LGBTQA can thrive, grow and feel comfortable as they are.

“Today’s panel shows that companies need to support their LGBTQA staff internally before doing anything externally in the LGBTQA space,” Kroll added. “Your employees don’t want to see you supporting the Pride parade if they know within the organization, they aren’t getting any support.”

Jeff acknowledged that “every organization is in a different place. What’s important is that you are on the journey, regardless of your starting point.”

The panel discussion was organized by Coca-Cola Canada’s Business Resource Group (BRG),which is implementing several projects, events and opportunities for Coca-Cola Canada employees to become educated on LGBTQA affairs.

“We wanted to bring in a few senior leaders from trusted partners and organizations to raise awareness and understanding of LGBTQA topics,” said Mark Lawton, chairman of Coca-Cola Ltd.’s LGBTQA BRG. “We want to enable our employees to build a progressive and inclusive culture, and I think the stories heard in today’s panel helped reinforce why it’s important to create those safe spaces.”

The panel discussion was the unofficial “kick-off” of a full calendar of events for Coca-Cola Canada’s LGBTQA BRG, which is expected to take place throughout 2020.

Next up on the BRG’s list of activities include a volunteerism event in April, Pride Month activations and a book club discussion in conjunction with International Day Against Homophobia.