Oli Shakir-Khalil is an Investment Director at Fidelity International covering Emerging Market Debt and Money Market strategies. Prior to joining Fidelity, Oli spent three years at Goldman Sachs Asset Management working as a Fixed Income Product Manager supporting the Emerging Market Debt business. Oli graduated from Trinity College, University of Cambridge with an MA (Hons.) degree in Classics and is a CFA charterholder.
Oli is passionate about LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace, and also strives to highlight the strong links between mental health issues and the LGBT+ community. Oli was the first person to blog openly about LGBT+ issues at Fidelity and was one of the first members of Fidelity’s Diversity & Inclusion Network, ‘Fidelity For Everyone’. Over the past five years, he has designed and conducted LGBT+ Ally Training sessions across many Fidelity offices from Dublin to Sydney.
From a policy perspective, Oli worked with HR, Legal and several inspirational trans* people from other organisations in the industry to write Fidelity’s ‘Gender Identity, Expression & Transitioning at Work Policy’. In 2017, Oli was given an award for ‘Outstanding Commitment’ by Fidelity’s Global Operating Committee in recognition of his contribution towards LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace.
Most recently, Oli led the design and launch of Fidelity’s Global LGBT+ Allies programme during Fidelity’s 2020 virtual Pride celebrations.
When did you have that “a-ha” moment and realise you were different?
It’s a tricky one and usually when people ask me “when did you know you were gay?” I shoot back with “when did you know you were straight?”. That tends to get some puzzled looks, but I do think this feeling often starts very early, even if it’s not completely conscious. But to answer more precisely with an anecdote… I’ve always been a big tennis fan so I remember being at primary school around the millennium when Anna Kournikova was at her peak. Boys around me were giddily looking through magazines to find pictures of her and I just didn’t understand what was so alluring about it all. Of course, I tried to play along but all the while wondered why I seemed to be having such a different experience!
How would you describe your experience of coming out?
Very difficult but absolutely life changing for the better. My dad came into my room during the Christmas holidays at university and reminded me that it had been a year since I was admitted to psychiatric hospital for depression. We started discussing it but I broke down and couldn’t get out what I needed to say. Eventually my mum came in and asked a series of questions, leading up to “is this all about your sexuality?”. I could only nod through the tears. My parents were incredibly supportive (as I always knew they would be), but then I had to turn attention to my brother, extended family and friends. I chose not to tell my friends from boarding school for a long time, fearing their reaction having lived with them every day for 5 years. My grandparents and extended family were also ‘higher risk’ but overall it all went very well.
That was the ‘first time’, but coming out is actually a daily decision. I’m in a client facing role and often find myself in situations before or after business meetings where discussion turns to our personal lives. Every time I have to decide how much to divulge depending on my relationship with the client, the colleagues I am with from my own company and the country I’m in at the time. This doesn’t necessarily distract from my ability to carry out my role effectively, but it is a very conscious part of my work life which many wouldn’t need to think about.
How did your childhood and family background impact both the timing and the way you came out?
My childhood was very happy, and I was lucky to have an amazing close family and great friends while I was growing up. But I spent 5 years at boarding school where the subject of homosexuality was almost entirely invisible. Out of 800 children in the school and perhaps 200 staff, only 1 pupil during my time there (who didn’t in fact board) came out and left shortly after because of the bullying he experienced. Being gay just simply didn’t exist. Although I knew I was different, I lived so completely in denial that it didn’t actually affect me too much at school.
Fast forward to university and suddenly I was around people my age who had been out and about for years at different schools. Being gay was now a possibility and that was when the problems began. I fought it as hard as I could to the severe detriment of my health, but eventually I cracked and had to accept myself for who I knew I was all along.
What would your advice to anyone trying to come out?
It is likely to be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. But also one of the best. I can say with full confidence that coming out is the single most important moment of my life; in fact, there’s a reasonable chance I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t chosen to come out when I did. Be brave, find people you love and who love you. Most of all: it gets better.
What was the most difficult experience you faced in your life because of your sexual orientation / gender identity? How did you handle it?
My time at university was very difficult. I became extremely depressed while vehemently living in denial of my sexual orientation which resulted in me being hospitalised during the Christmas holidays of my second year for around 6 weeks. After that, I returned to Cambridge but came back to London 1 or 2 days each week during term time for more therapy while being heavily medicated to make sure I was safe. I later relapsed and was re-hospitalised during the summer holidays before coming out at Christmas time of my third year - the moment my recovery could finally begin. It was a very tough time and looking back on it now I feel like a completely different person to that version of me at my lowest point. But at the same time, I learned a lifetime of lessons about myself and how to cope with difficult emotions which I now take with me wherever I go.
Who is the most important role model in your life and why?
My mum is my most important role model. She has been incredibly successful in her career which came with a lot of personal sacrifice along the way. Even at the very top level of senior management, she has always been incredibly kind, generous and supportive to others as well as championing LGBT+ diversity long before I came out. This really helped me to know that I would always be accepted in my family when the time came. I am so proud of her passion for building better cultures at work in the City and more recently as a non-executive director of the RAF.
Now broadening our horizon, describe your experience being a member of the LGBTQ community at work? In your industry?
I think we’ve come a long way even in the last 5 years. For me, the workplace was the first institution where I decided to be out from day 1, having spent my time at school and university largely in the closet. Luckily, my first employer was incredibly active and visible in their support - one of the key reasons I wanted to work there. But moving to my current workplace a few years later, I arrived to find no such visible inclusion. Determined not to go back in the closet I gradually tested the waters with a few close colleagues but was very conscious of the somewhat “pale, male, stale” culture permeating much of the office. This was a difficult period for me, not knowing if I could truly be myself without judgement.
Nonetheless, I would be lying if I said I had experienced any discrimination and since joining 5 years ago we have made incredible steps towards a more inclusive culture for which I am immensely proud. We still have a way to go and are certainly lacking senior role models from many parts of the community, but I am optimistic that positive change is coming.
And, what could make the biggest positive impact for the LGBTQ community?
Allies. Allies. Allies. There are plenty of white gay men like me who are trying to move the agenda on LGBTQ inclusion forward, but the message is no doubt more powerful if it is raised by those from outside the community as they cannot be dismissed as doing it for their own personal benefit. LGBTQ inclusion must be seen as a heterosexual issue if we are really to enact positive change for all.
Finally and on a less serious note, what stereotype do you love the most about the LGBTQ community?
So many… where to start! For me, it’s probably that all gay men love fashion and shopping. I personally try to minimise time in clothes shops as far as possible and tend instead to go for a 6-monthly trip to Primark to fix my wardrobe for the following half year. No, I don’t own any Gucci trainers. Yes, I can be seen in the same outfit twice.