Anthony Watson, Chief Information Officer at Barclays, talks to David Hudson about his career, and being ‘out’ in the world of business…
Anthony Watson, the 36-year-old Managing Director and Chief Information Officer for Barclays’ Europe Retail and Business Banking arm, doesn’t believe it’s for him to advise anyone else about their sexuality or whether they should come out or not, yet he gives the most persuasive and matter-of-fact answer when talking of his own experiences.
“I’m far more happy in my personal and professional life out, than I ever was in the closet,” he states. “The best thing I ever did was come out. I don’t think you can be an authentic leader – and I’ve got about 1,800 people working for me – unless you are open and honest about who you are. The best leaders I know are transparent: they don’t hide aspects of themselves. I felt that I was always held back by something: not being able to bring my whole self to work. So, to move my career forward, I came out at work. It was the best thing I ever did.”
Anthony is quick to concede that it wasn’t an easy decision at the time. Born in London, Watson spent much of his childhood in Ireland. He read theology at Trinity College, Dublin – entertaining the possibility of becoming a minister. At the same time, while still a student, he found part-time work providing tech support for AOL Ireland. Realising that technology fascinated him, Anthony took a job with First-e (Europe’s first internet bank). That was followed by jobs at Microsoft and Wells Fargo, before joining Barclays, three years ago. He’s now responsible for the technology side of the business in 22 European countries. He came out to friends and family at the age of 21, before coming out at work, around six years later.
“I find when people assume one thing about you (i.e. you’re straight), and you tell them something that’s the opposite of what they’d assumed… they can find it difficult,” he says, diplomatically, when I ask him about coming out at work. “I remember being shocked by a colleague using the term ‘filthy queer’ in a meeting – so much so that I had to pull him aside and say, ‘I’m gay, and you don’t get to use that language here. If you want to use it at home, that’s your call, but in this context, you don’t get to use that language’. That’s actually why I came out at the time. It’s important that people take a stand on these issues.”
In this year’s World Pride Power List 2012, published in The Guardian, Watson was voted the 56th most influential gay person in the world, alongside the likes of Tom Cook (CEO Apple), and Lord Browne (Former CEO of BP). Barclays was ranked third in Stonewall’s 2012 Workplace Equality Index, and it has a large and well-established LGBT Network group, Spectrum. Watson simply says, “It’s very important that those of us who can, should give back to the communities in which we live and work. I’ve been very fortunate in life and I want to be able, in some small way, to help others.”