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Being yourself at work is something that LGBTQ+ people continue to wrestle with. As part of our Out at Work series, Vada Magazine meets the Founder and CEO of Career Accelerator, Mayur Gupta. Having started out working in an inner-city state school, Gupta shares how a desire to help students gain career advice resulted in him setting up his own business.
Having studied Business at the University of Nottingham, Mayur Gupta embarked on an internship with Balloon Ventures in Kenya, where he helped local entrepreneurs set up and scale their businesses. He then went on to take part in a graduate scheme, that saw him working at a state school in Elephant and Castle, in London. Gupta also worked as a consultant with East Thames in Barking and Dagenham, where he worked on a regional regeneration strategy.
“I always wanted to do something meaningful and intellectual when I was a teenager, and I figured by studying Business at a top University I would be able to learn a lot of knowledge and skills, and embark on a career in a professional job,” Gupta recalls of his choice of university degree.
He also tells me that his enjoyment of studying English Literature, Economics and Psychology at A-Level, made him consider pursuing a Business degree, as he felt it was a way to merge all three subjects.
At the age of 23, Gupta started his own business, Career Accelerator. It was during his time working in a school that he reflected on the lack of career support available for secondary school students. This, coupled with Gupta’s own negative experiences of secondary education, spurred him on to establish the company.
“My own lived experience of growing up gay in a very homophobic all boys school, and struggling massively with not having relatable LGBT+ business role modes, made me feel I couldn’t ever be successful or accepted it in the business world,” shares Gupta.
“I came to the conclusion that whilst as a teenager I didn’t have much power to change my unhappy situation at school as a gay student,” he continues. “As a working adult in my twenties, I finally had a potential platform to provide relatable, successful business mentors to the next generation of young people, in the same way I would have loved to have had myself as a scared and confused teenager.”
Gupta has been at the helm of Career Accelerator for the past four years, which has seen the business working with 30 schools, in collaboration with over 20 leading tech firms. These names include LinkedIn, Just Eat, Vodafone, Cisco and GoCardless.
For the first three years of running his business, Gupta tells me that he was not always open about his sexuality. “I felt it wasn’t appropriate for secondary school students to know I was gay, and I feared it may put them off joining my business’s career programme. What’s more, I figured my business was to do with social mobility, gender and race, and not LGBT+ inclusion, so I didn’t think it was relevant to talk about LGBT+ topics.”
That being said, he is now open about being gay and has even spearheaded an LGBT+ business youth mentoring programme, something which Gupta says is the best decision he has made since starting the business.
As for the reaction from students? “To my delight, lots of my students really respected and admired the fact I’m open about being LGBT+ and get involved with LGBT+ activism through my work and beyond. In addition, being open about being gay has definitely helped me build new partnerships with LGBT+ networks in companies, letting my business work with dream clients I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Given that LGBT+ inclusion in business is something that is close to his heart, Gupta admits to feeling frustrated when meeting with HR managers at organisations that do not share his views about why this is an important issue.
“I’ve learned to address this by focusing my interactions in businesses with LGBT+ leaders and strong allies who actually care about these topics and will do the impactful work, and this approach has worked out really well,” he adds.
As someone who has had an overall positive experience of being themselves in the workplace, Gupta acknowledges that this might not always be the case. For anyone thinking of coming out at work, he advises having a supportive network of friends to confide in, should there be any challenges.
He is also keen to highlight the importance of being yourself at work. “I would recommend doing research into the business and societal benefits of being LGBT+ in the business world, and use your unique perspectives and lived experiences to your benefit.” he concludes. “For example, learning from LGBT+ business mentors, working with LGBT+ clients and beneficiary groups, and using LGBT+ networks to build your personal brand.”