Inspire Inclusion: Jeff Schoenfeld’s Journey to His Authentic Self

The best stories are the stories that come from the people who live them. Hear from BBH Partner Jeff Schoenfeld.

For many of us with decades of experience in the business world, it may feel like this tidal wave of change that we now call Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) only became a major focus of Corporate America over the past decade. But the roots of today’s period of social, political, and economic change dates back to World War II.

BBH’s D&I agenda is a hard-coded set of values that say loud and clear that we are committed to breaking down any remaining cultural, attitudinal, or territorial barriers — across business lines, job functions, and geographies — to make sure that all BBHers feel included in the firm and that nothing holds any professional back from contributing at their highest potential.


My Journey

I am now a 35-year veteran of BBH and an openly gay man in all aspects of my life — something that was not always the case. In my early days, it was necessary to be closeted if you wanted to fit in and advance. Like every other LGBTQ professional at the time, I dreaded the most innocent of questions each Monday morning: “What did you do last weekend?” I felt I could not share my life outside of work, and therefore I could not bring my whole self to work. Ironically, by doing so, I created invisible boundaries that naturally created distance between me and my colleagues. There were plenty of awkward moments, but I obviously navigated my way and progressed, over time sharing more of myself with others — freeing up more energy to focus on my contributions and career progression. I am mighty glad that I do not dread Monday mornings anymore, but I am also keenly aware that we still have many colleagues in our ranks who do not feel they can be their authentic selves at work.

I recognize that my professional journey (1980 – present) has coincided with a period of major shifts in social norms in the United States and elsewhere around the world. When I joined BBH in 1984, this article would not have been written; LGBTQ was just a jumble of meaningless letters; and there were virtually no “out” business or political leaders around the world. Diversity and inclusion could not be openly discussed, and anyone speaking up about these topics would likely be shunned within their organizations. Fortunately, so much has changed for the better.  

Like every other LGBTQ professional at the time, I dreaded the most innocent of questions each Monday morning: ‘What did you do last weekend?’”


Our Collective Journey

I accept that not everyone embraces diversity at the same pace. Reality for one person may be very different than for another person who has had a completely different life experience. And I believe that we should all be understanding of those who need more time to “get on the train,” and that is where our agenda of inclusion comes in — enabling colleagues to learn more about our differences and the power that comes from drawing upon our collective strengths and expertise.

Many will rightly be asking, “What does all of this mean for me? How can I make a difference in advancing this important agenda for the firm?” There is no single path to embracing or participating in the firm’s D&I initiatives. The simple answer is that each of you needs to map your own journey, but it might begin by asking: “Am I bringing my authentic self to work?” Perhaps you can note instances when you find yourself on guard, stifling your participation or contribution. Also ask yourself, “What can I do to ensure that those around me are also able to let down their guards?” Maybe praise a colleague the next time you see them take a risk or share a point of view that differs from that of the group. And always remember, being authentic involves stating your perspective in a way that is respectful, compassionate and emotionally intelligent.

My BBH experience tells me that the more you reveal of yourself, the more trust and transparency you build in your professional relationships, and the more collaborative and productive those relationships become. For some, a deeper reveal of yourself may be uncomfortable or downright scary. But I can only share from personal experience that the outcomes are likely to be far more positive than you expect, and that you have the firm’s unwavering support to bring your authentic self to work and to help others to do the same.

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