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The Impact of Empathy

written by Sinéad Burke

Geoff Lynam and Dave Kelly are partners who also work with Bank of Ireland. Here they discuss inclusive leadership, LGBT+ rights and fostering a safe and inclusive culture for colleagues and customers.

Geoff describes himself as “chilled and likes to be the life and soul of the party”, and according to Dave, he is “approachable, friendly, fun-loving and down to earth”. They both work with Bank of Ireland. Geoff has been with the organisation for thirteen years and Dave for four years, and they have been in a relationship together for thirteen years.

Their proximity to one another at home and work is huge, and this shared view has meant that their leadership styles mirror one another. In the past three years, Geoff has been a branch manager in Ballyfermot, Rathfarnham and Kill of the Grange and has recently taken on a new role as Head of Premier Banking (Dublin South), which he will manage off-site and while on the road. Dave’s role is Branch Manager in Dublin City University. When Geoff and Dave talk about their teams, they both use the language of “inclusion, trust, transparency and fairness”. But this approach does not mean that they are complacent when things are not ‘hunky dory’.

“I think that there is always an understanding that every interaction is based on respect and that when you do have to speak with someone about improving performance, it is about providing constructive feedback aimed to bring about professional growth and self-development,” says Geoff.

Root all interactions in empathy

Working on a college campus, Dave is very conscious of the diversity of his customer base and continuously keeps two principles in mind when interacting with customers: “The first, to never discount anyone from any walk of life, and the second, to treat them fairly and to root all interactions in empathy.” This approach appears to be common among minority voices and is always the foundation for my interactions because my survival and independence are reliant on others’ kindness and so, I do my utmost to reciprocate.

Ireland has undergone huge societal and political transformation regarding LGBT+ rights but speaking with Geoff and Dave, they said that being gay has rarely presented an issue within the context of their work. Geoff can only recall one instance in his long career, about two years ago when he was working in Rathfarnham. He happened to overhear an interaction between a colleague and a visitor to the branch. The visitor objected to dealing with him because he was gay, and his colleague responded by explaining that the branch is an inclusive environment for everybody. “I believe that explaining our ethos in this way can be a way in which we can educate others,” says Geoff.

A safe and inclusive culture

Walking through the corridors of head offices, many staff are wearing rainbow-coloured lanyards to indicate that they are an LGBT+ ally. Dave says that the support from management and colleagues at every level of the organisation was a key reason for him joining the organisation. In previous companies, he hadn’t experienced any explicit discrimination, but every so often there were undertones that would make him uncomfortable.

With such visible support from colleagues, particularly at head office, Geoff wants the communities that they are part of, to see and experience this work on inclusion in their local branch. Dave agrees and adds that the organisation has a responsibility to be a leader in this space and that while Bank of Ireland’s advocacy for the LGBT+ community is very strong, the organisation must strive to maintain this work. Given the organisation’s size and reach, it is essential to take the opportunity to champion inclusion and diversity, helping to lead by example regarding creating a safe and inclusive culture for employees and customers; which will, in turn, shape the Irish and global landscape to be more inclusive and diverse as a whole. 

What’s next for them both? Geoff says that “he becomes bored easily and needs to be continuously challenged.” During his time at the organisation, he has had a new role every eighteen months and just four months into a new position, he’s revelling in the challenge, but he also wants to pursue further education – perhaps even an MBA. Dave is considering a Masters too, to keep progressing and to build his brand but quietly he told me, “I also want a dog, though. But don’t tell Geoff.”

Published on Apr 10, 2018

About the author and this series of interviews

Academic, writer and rights advocate Sinéad Burke met with a number of our colleagues to present their lived experience in the context of the six Inclusion & Diversity employee support networks in Bank of Ireland. In these interviews, they share their perspectives and experiences of inclusion and diversity in work and life.

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