In 2015, as Ireland prepared for its same-sex marriage referendum, Margot Slattery, one of few openly gay Irish top executives, helped to rally scores of company chiefs to get behind the reform effort.
The 55-year-old global head of diversity and inclusion at ISS, which provides catering, cleaning and other services to businesses, is global D&I ambassador for the autonomous enterprise body, the All-Ireland Business Foundation.
It took years to shed her baggage of growing up gay in devoutly Catholic, rural Limerick, in the west of Ireland: “It just wasn’t acceptable to be different,” she says. Confronting her “own homophobia”, she came out well into her thirties.
Slattery says a supportive workplace was her “enabler”. She was at French catering services group Sodexo at the time and went on to become its Ireland chief executive.
She had faced discrimination in her first career as a chef: “Females get called cooks.” After hotel management retraining, she swapped macho professional kitchens for male-dominated business.
She wearies of being pigeonholed the gay executive. “There’s still a hell of a lot to talk about” to make workplaces more inclusive and maintain hard-won rights — “we see in parts of the world the freedoms that we have enjoyed slipping away”.
Shy, yet driven, “you’ve got to be vocal,” she adds. “CEOs need to take a stand.” Married in 2017, the idea of a political future attracts her. She is ambitious to see lasting change, not least in attitudes. “People say I’ve got a gay job and I have a day job . . . I’ve just got a job.”