2022’s Pride theme is #AllOurPride. To celebrate this we are putting together a series of blogs where we speak to multiple, successful LGBTQ+ leaders about their personal experiences and what Pride means to them. To kick things off, our Head of Content Laura started with her first guest, Propel's Founder Melina Jacovou.
Who are you and who do you work for?
I am Melina Jacovou, Chief Executive and Founder of Propel, a talent solutions business based in the heart of Soho, that supports and finds talent for UK and European high-growth VC and PE tech scale-ups. We also help international businesses that are landing here in the UK and work closely with government bodies to promote London and the UK regionally. Our reach is totally industry agnostic; the tech businesses we partner with span a multitude of sectors – all, however, share the common thread of being disruptive.
We have supported many trade missions to introduce global companies into the UK, but my proudest moment was being a part of the first LGBTQ+ North American Founders trade mission to support their expansion into the UK, as this was a first and I was so pleased to have been involved with making it happen.
Here at Propel, we hire people who come from all walks of life and backgrounds. We really focus on supporting people no matter who they are or where they come from. Our ethos is one of being proudly unconventional, we are big promoters of people being different, but also being themselves and therefore authentic in every way.
For you personally, why is Pride so important? And how do you yourself get behind this?
Pride is really important for me because it’s a celebration of people who are different, but in its inclusivity it’s also an event that’s open to those who don’t consider themselves to be – everyone all coming together as one. It’s about people visiting London from all over, to march and walk the streets to shout out and signify that we’ll all not the same and that it’s okay – in fact, it’s brilliant! If you are someone that comes from a very judgemental environment where it’s still unacceptable not to be you, Pride offers you an opportunity to be around people who might for once look like you, act like you and to be accepted, to celebrate your differences and your innate uniqueness – it’s a gathering where anything goes. For me, it’s a time to meet new friends and reunite with old ones, an amazing experience to be around and amongst like-minded people.Pride is not just a party in my eyes, it is draped in history, so a celebration but with a needful purpose at the same time.
Over the years, I have sat on many panels and discussed what it means to be a LGBTQ+ Founder, the importance of being open, honest and to lead by example. As a company, we always make time to celebrate Pride and its history. We have had brilliant guest speakers in the past who have educated the company on the history behind Pride and the struggles the LGBTQ+ community have been through. This year, we are doing a series of blogs with successful LGBTQ+ leaders in the industry to voice their stories and gain insight into their experiences which we are really excited about. We have also incorporated Pride into our end of financial year party this year. The theme is to celebrate being different, as well as our successes and by doing this we have an array of acts performing at our celebration, as well as the whole day being hosted by a fabulous drag queen and drag King - we truly cannot wait for this. Pictures coming soon!
What were your personal experiences of coming out as gay?
As a gay woman, it wasn’t until quite late in my life that I came out; I was 29 when I did, which I find quite strange on reflection, considering I went to art school where I was surrounded by lots of supposedly open-minded people. When I was younger, it was unacceptable and frowned upon to be gay, so the transition of coming out wasn’t an easy one. Once I did, I immediately noticed just how comfortable and happy I felt in my own skin. My personality began to really shine through, and I genuinely felt I could start to be my true self. It’s when you can be authentic and actually like being you that you realise it doesn’t matter what other people think; what’s more important is the way you treat people, how they treat you and the things you say. These realisations helped me become more confident. That’s when my career really took off and I started to become successful.
Having the ability to come out and be there for other people, to be a role model and to make sure that it’s actually okay for people to see you doing what you do and the way that you do it and to know that it really doesn’t matter: this has given me huge rewards. A big moment for me in my youth had to be being one of the first gay women to be let into Heaven night-club - for me this was a massive milestone at the time and showed we were heading towards positive change. There have been many more moments like this throughout my career in the business world and in my private life but this one really sticks in my mind.
Have your experiences impacted the way you run a business?
Absolutely! It’s very difficult to empathise with people if you haven’t been through it! If you are part of a minority group, you can really understand other people’s life experiences whatever that may mean and that insight brings an openness, which is so important because in turn, it provides people with an opportunity to be themselves and that is when the magic happens.
The business I run is very open, very honest. We encourage you to turn up and be you with absolutely no judgement. What does that mean? Well, I feel that by encouraging authenticity, people who work at Propel can be very direct and upfront and are able to have those sometimes awkward and brave conversations that need to be had, because it engenders a space where everyone can feel comfortable, secure and supported - creating safety for any identity in the workplace. I also encourage everyone in the business to use it as a forum to talk about their differences, to be ‘out and proud’, whether it’s in terms of their sexuality, age, ethnic or cultural backgrounds - anything goes, and we are truly proud of that.
What are the struggles you have faced in this environment being gay?
Lots of people have judged me and not accepted me for who I am because of my sexuality, and this is certainly true in the headhunting world I inhabit. For some reason, people didn’t think I would be as successful as I am and maybe disregarded me. Until you start delivering and being brilliant, people judge you for all the wrong reasons, so the struggle I have always had has been to feel like I need to be the best at what I do and overcompensate and that’s sometimes tiring.
I would say that the world has changed since I came out, but discrimination lives on and there will always be people out there who find it difficult to accept people who are different to them. Even in today’s more potentially inclusive world, where people and indeed companies are realising the need for diversity, it sometimes still isn’t an easy journey to be yourself, but I can safely say the rewards of doing so are second to none. Once you are true to yourself, that is when you can be most impactful and that is when you build the most trust. As a leader, being yourself really encourages those around you to do the same, it has a trickle-down effect and provides others with the springboard, confidence and creativity to be themselves, making for positive relationships all round.
What advice would you give to anyone who hasn’t come out yet but wants to?
It may feel like there is never a right time, but if you do come out, make sure you do it around people whom you feel safe with, those you feel are open minded and empathise, and if you don’t know those people, go out and find them! Go and discover those communities, they are everywhere nowadays, and they have so many confident, successful and brilliant people within them - find your tribe!
- Melina Jacovou, CEO and Founder of Propel