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After 25 years and 4 jobs, I finally feel I can be my whole self at work

By Alvin Quah, Medical Communications and
Patient Relations Manager at AbbVie

Have you ever arrived at work on a Monday having rehearsed your response to the ‘What did you get up to this weekend?’ question? I have.

While I am a proud gay man and member of the LGBTQI+ community, I haven’t always been comfortable being my whole self in the corporate world.

I’ve worked in pharma for 16 years, but my working life started long before that. I would walk into work already knowing exactly what I would say – or wouldn’t say.

Why? I was painfully aware that conversations about my personal life and my partner could stir up uncomfortable questions, comments and conversations. I always felt like work and my life had to stay separate, and that I couldn’t be my “whole self” in this way.

It wasn’t until I started at AbbVie Australia – almost 5 years ago now – that I truly understood why it is so important organisations encourage employees to be their authentic self.

Before I started at AbbVie I wasn’t even sure what it meant to be my “whole self” in a corporate setting, much less understand the profound impact it would have on me and my working life.

During my time at AbbVie, I have realised that in order to be my whole self I needed to feel comfortable being true and authentic to who I am.

For me, that means being humble, approachable and – at times – vulnerable. It means being human and embracing all that comes with it – your experiences, your emotions and your beliefs.

In the past two decades, there has been an undeniable shift with regard to understanding the importance of workplace culture. A positive workplace culture is one where employees are not only valued for their performance, but also their lived experiences and values.

As more job seekers look beyond job descriptions, it is vital that organisations develop inclusive workplace cultures that embraces and empowers its individual team members.

The benefits of this kind of workplace culture are felt at every level, in both a commercial and a personal sense. Not only do employees experience higher levels of productivity and innovation, but also a stronger sense of personal satisfaction.

In my experience, when I was finally comfortable being my whole self, I found I was able to create genuine connections with my colleagues and the wider team at AbbVie.

At AbbVie Australia, I am not only encouraged to be my whole self but, for the first time in a long time, I am comfortable doing so in my professional life.

The inclusive culture and attitude of my colleagues has given me the courage to engage in conversations about my weekend, my personal life and my partner. I’m happy to swap stories about how we spent our weekend and speak openly about my partner.

As a result, I have strong relationships with my colleagues that I honestly never really thought I would – or even could – have.

Last year I even joined AbbVie’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion Council because I wanted to give back and be part of a group that can continue meaningful change in the company.

When AbbVie was announced Australia’s #2 Best Place to Work in 2020, I wasn’t surprised. I was extremely proud.

AbbVie practices what they preach. They recognise people not only for their talents but also for their values and their experiences – both personal and professional. 

Most importantly, they encourage all employees to share their whole self – proudly – at work.

I am a proud gay man and member of the LGBTQI+ community. I am so grateful that I can finally say I am completely comfortable being my whole self in all part of my life. It’s liberating and humbling to be appreciated for who you truly are.