Pedro Frade, legal director, Nubank

As a spokesperson for the LGBTQIA+ community, D&I is not just a corporate concept for Pedro Frade, it’s part of his lived reality. He shares how the freedom to be himself has transformed his wellbeing, and why he continues to work for better inclusion in corporate life

Diversity and inclusion is near and dear to me, because I am part of the LGBTQIA+ community. I didn’t come out of the closet because I was never in there, and although I was very private in the early years of my career, I never tried to be someone that I wasn’t.

However, in the traditional financial markets, I felt a lot of anxiety for many, many years. I felt that because of my sexual orientation there was a limit to my success, to how far I could go in the corporate structure, because I couldn’t see anyone in senior leadership positions that I could relate to, no one was out in that particular industry in Brazil. I used to hear minor aggressions almost every day, jokes that I thought I had to live with. Although I put a lot of effort into my career and working was such an important pillar of my life, I believed for many years that my personal situation was a ‘ceiling’.

Part of a movement

In 2012, I went to work at HSBC. It was my first leadership position; I was hired there to lead a team of 12 people and be responsible for the legal advice for many parts of the business. And there I started to see that maybe those limits or those restrictions were more in my mind than out there. I started to see a movement of people being themselves about their sexual orientation, people being able to introduce their partners in social events, and even getting educated about how the bank in the UK dealt with this internally. I started to think that maybe it could be a good thing, I could even be part of a movement and talk about an experience that, for me, was very difficult before.

I was still very private at that point; I didn’t talk about my personal life at all at work. But I felt that people welcomed that, maybe people didn’t care, which was great. And the structure of the organization even gave people incentives to get involved in ERG groups, affinity groups, the Pride group, and so on.

In 2015, I started to be very involved in D&I groups and discussions in Latin America, where it’s much more challenging than in the UK, Europe or the US. I realized I could use my voice from my place of professional success to tell others that they should feel safe. At least, in that organization, I felt that this was true. I lived in Argentina for a couple of years, and there I was the first executive sponsor of a Pride group who was also a member of the group. We launched the Pride Committee in Argentina – a country that is open from the legal side, much more open than Brazil, but society is not necessarily the same.

An OUTstanding leader

Because of that work, I decided to join panels to talk about it and, in 2017, I was the first Latin American named in the Financial Times list of 100 OUTstanding LGBT leaders and allies. This came as a huge responsibility for me because I was the first Latin American there. Today, we have others, which makes me very glad. I didn’t know it, but I think that was the validation I needed as a person: to really believe that I deserved to be where I was, separate from my personal situation, because sometimes I felt that I didn’t – that I didn’t fit. Because every time I was with my peers, I didn’t have stories to talk about children, the more traditional family type of talk, I always felt left out.

Since then, I have realized that the aspects of D&I I have had exposure to are very limited. Although I am a gay man, I am white, I am cis and I come from a family that gave me all the opportunities for success – to go to the best schools, to learn English, to live abroad. So I refreshed the way I am working in relation to D&I. Two or three years ago, I started to get educated about racial justice, something that I’m very committed to get educated about in a system that is purely made for the success of white people.

Now I’m putting myself in the humble position of getting educated about how I can get exposure to diversity in my country that is very different from my reality. I’m not diminishing whatever challenges I had to face, but I’ve just realized that I cannot stop here, that I need to go much further as a leader – correct some injustices, broaden the access of opportunities in law schools and in our legal departments to people that have never had them before.

In terms of my personal experience, I had this first wave, where I could say ‘Ok, I’m here’. But I felt I needed to be that role model – a gay guy who speaks many languages, who has travelled the world, etc. The financial industry likes gay people, but they like those role models that look perfect, which I am not! And also it’s from a static point of view – you can be out, but you do not be an activist.

The importance of being yourself

At Nubank, I think I have achieved the true opportunity to be myself. Since feeling more able to be open about my personal life, I feel happier. I think that’s the easiest way to put it. I feel lighter. I feel that I don’t need to hide the type of music that I like, the type of films that I watch, the places that I go. I feel I don’t need to hide that I’m a sensitive person, that I cry sometimes. I feel that I can make comments with my team that I make with my friends, that I had to hide at work previously. And I think I am getting closer to people in my team and in other teams.

I was able to be a very good performer before, but at a cost – anxiety, even moments of depression, many times. I think the main thing about being able to be open is in terms of mental health and happiness. I don’t talk often about my personal life because I’m still private. But I’m me. I don’t feel ashamed anymore whenever it’s appropriate to talk about those things. So, it’s fresh working at Nubank in this sense.

Setting the agenda

At Nubank, I think that the agenda is very genuine. The teams are growing diverse, and we have very ambitious goals to increase this diversity over time. I have worked in US companies, British companies and Brazilian companies before, but there has been nothing really like the diversity we have in Nubank. The dedication of the senior leadership and the amazing D&I professionals from different backgrounds are really inspiring.

We have been involved in many initiatives that aim to promote entrepreneurship from the black communities. There is an investment program called Semente Preta (‘Black Seed’) funding start-ups that are being created and led by black professionals. We have invested funds in many of those start-ups that we will continue to follow, give mentorship to and ensure they have the right opportunities to grow their new businesses.

Salvador is the capital of Bahia, one of the states in Brazil which has a large black community. It’s very important in the landscape of Brazil, so we have opened a lab there focusing on those communities to foster innovation, and we also have ‘Nubankers’ working from there.

Mobilising the legal community

As a legal team at Nubank, we are working with legal teams in other companies to join efforts to foster social and racial diversity in the legal community. Nubank has given us the platform to go out there and say: we need to unite ourselves for broader actions and initiatives in terms of racial justice and diversity in the legal community.

I think there’s a huge potential for the legal community to be more diverse, and because a legal team within a company is not the core business, our teams are not that large, we have fewer opportunities outside the context of the business.

But, internally, we can help with our knowledge to be sure that we have the right policies in place, we support other areas to ensure that whatever decision we make is not discriminatory in terms of clients, and that any language that we use in our marketing is also adequate. So I think we do have the knowledge to help with D&I initiatives. Every single initiative coming from both the D&I and the ESG teams is supported by us in legal, and we have to ensure that we comply with the laws and best practices. Especially when you start sponsoring projects, you have agreements, you have many legislations that you have to comply with. And Nubank is so dedicated to it that just in being part of this huge community, you are involved in D&I discussions every day.

There are many arguments for diversity and inclusion in corporations. From an HR perspective, you want to attract and retain the best staff. From a marketing standpoint, it’s more creative if you have people from different backgrounds – the proposals, the brand, the advertisements will be much more interesting. From a commercial standpoint, if you have a team that is diverse, clients will see themselves in you, so you create this relatability between clients and the people that form your company. From a legal perspective, you need to treat everyone equally; you need to have a very strong culture in terms of respect.

All of this makes sense. We have many reports available showing that diverse companies are more sustainable, long-term profits, results, etc. But, for me, it’s because it’s the right thing to do. If your goal is to see a society that is more equal, more just, fairer, why not start doing it with your own company? Because, doing that, I think you will inspire people who perhaps never thought about diversity, multiplying and inspiring others outside the company. If you want to have a company that leaves a legacy in society, and perhaps influences society, that has the same goals as you would like to see, that’s where you can do it.