7th June 2021
This Pride Month, we talk to Civica’s Director of Transformation Paul Shawley about his adoption journey and embracing his true self.
I’m Paul and I’ve worked in a number of leadership roles at Civica over the last nine years. Three years ago, my partner Andrew and I adopted a six-year-old boy called Kenny. Not able to create a family in the more ‘traditional’ manner, we turned to adoption, and over the course of years of assessments and family finding, we were connected with a scared little boy. He loved to build things out of cardboard and watch cartoons. Most of all he wanted to be cherished and loved without condition. To be respected. To have dignity.
It doesn’t feel like much to ask for, in my mind.
Coming out as gay
I used to not make a big thing about being gay. I never denied it, but I wouldn’t necessarily be very public about it either. As I’ve got older, I think that it is important that I write this as part of Pride so that others at Civica, or those working alongside us or thinking of joining us, know that we have a space for everyone, no matter how they define themselves.
I remember coming out as gay to my dad about 25 years ago and his advice to me was: “Keep your head down son; don’t make a thing of it.”
His intention was supportive, based on a fear of the prejudices his own lived experience had shown him I would face.
Motivated by love for me, he understood that people around me would not treat me the same if they knew about my sexuality. His world was one where the whole of me was not deserving of dignity and respect, and his advice was to just not let people see that part.
Fortunately, in pockets of the world this is no longer the case: Civica is one of those pockets. It’s a place where I feel safe being who I am – because everyone here gets to be who they truly are.
Being yourself in the workplace
At Civica, what’s important is that you get the job done, enjoy your work and the company of your colleagues, and foster a safe environment for everyone. It’s not that my sexual orientation is invisible like Dad advised, but that it is visible, and just doesn’t matter.
I’d love to say that this is the natural state of the world, but it actually takes work to bring about. It happens through scrutiny of policies, appropriate training, careful recruitment and leadership that behaves consistently with its values. The combination of structural tools and personal behaviours is what creates and fosters a safe environment where nobody needs to hide who they are, but that it isn’t falsely celebrated in some kind of ‘gay saviour’ inauthentic manner.
Parenthood is parenthood
Nobody at Civica judges that our son Kenny is adopted or that he’s part of a same sex family. They understand that adoption does mean that different support may be required, and that awareness of difference without judgement is so incredibly important to us as a family.
There’s a kind of unspoken fear amongst adopters that they may be seen as not being a proper family, proper parents or what have you. “You’re not even my real Dad!” is a statement that can haunt us in our imaginations.
And like most imposter syndromes, one of the strongest ways to manage it is to see that people around you don’t see you as imposter. So, when people ask me, “How’s your lad getting along?”, it helps reinforce my own sense of being a parent and that I am Kenny’s dad.
Pride in my son
Before I finish, here’s a different story about a father and his son. There’s a lyric in the Neil Young song ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ that paints a very powerful picture of a mother who hates herself as she takes drugs in the presence of her young child:
“There’s one more kid / that will never go to school / Never get to fall in love / never get to be cool.”
I was powerfully reminded of this lyric when I was dropping Kenny back to school after a dental appointment. It was playtime, and his friends raced over to greet him like he was a returning hero calling out that ‘the Kenster’ was back. He had a nickname, and people who were over-joyed to see him.
He had the opportunity to be cool. Why would I keep that invisible when it is such a great outcome in the world?
At Civica it is possible to be gay, a senior leader, adopt, parent an adopted son, and progress your career. I know because I’m enjoying doing it.