Inovia Capital’s Michael McGraw: Leverage the LGBTQ+ asset

'I very much see finance as a way to multiply the vision of the world I have.'

The second instalment in our series elevating the voices of members of the LGBTQ+ community features Michael McGraw, a principal at Montreal-headquartered Inovia Capital. McGraw is based in the firm’s London office.

It’s easy to think of coming out as one singular moment. In reality, many members of the LGBTQ+ community do so several times during their lifetime. McGraw decided to initially stay in the closet at his first job at a large PE investor. “I wanted to establish myself as a great investor,” he said. “Not that I had any sign that people would not be receptive to me coming out, but I was just not willing to take the risk.”

McGraw was eventually “forced” to come out, as he received a bouquet of flowers for his birthday while at work. “I opened the card in front of my two peers, who saw it was sent by a guy I was seeing at the time,” he explained.

While generally not the preferred way to come out, McGraw is retrospectively able to be thankful about the turn of events. “My peers responded well, and asked why I hadn’t told them sooner,” he said. “But when you’re so far down that path, it’s hard to do.”

Since his first job, a mix of internal and external factors have changed, according to McGraw, and coming out became almost a non-issue when he changed jobs. “I probably dropped the boyfriend word within the first couple of weeks.”

“That really allowed me to create a much stronger bond with my superiors because I could be genuinely myself,” he added.

McGraw later worked for Canadian pension fund CDPQ before moving to Inovia in February 2018. Joining a firm where he has a path to partnership and the ability to quickly help define the firm’s values and ESG policies was important to him. “I wanted to have an influence on the values that we’re spreading through the world,” he said.

“I very much see finance as a way to multiply the vision of the world I have,” he added. “You have a lot of leverage on your own person through that.”

Find your allies

Inovia’s headcount is still “fairly small” and while the firm has several diversity initiatives, it does not yet have an all-encompassing policy, according to McGraw. “What we do have, is a mentality where someone can raise their hand and say, ‘I care about this, and I want to spearhead this.’ The company will give you the time and resources to do that.”

A lot of Inovia’s initiatives are about internal policies and training. McGraw stressed that it is important to consider whether policies are LGBTQ+ friendly. “From a healthcare or a parental leave perspective – some firms have fertility benefits,” he said. “What about surrogate or adoption process, is that covered as well?”

An accepting environment isn’t necessarily enough. Providing training – to equip colleagues to use the correct vocabulary, for example – is a part of it. But this must be done in a safe learning environment, McGraw said. “If someone uses the wrong pronoun by accident, but they have good intent, that’s the most important thing.”

McGraw considers external messaging, such as firms changing their logos to rainbow colour, to have a place in LGBTQ+ initiatives, as long as the work behind them is done right. “Inovia didn’t want to change the logo unless the firm was doing enough in terms of LGBTQ+ initiatives,” he explained. “They consider it a very positive signal but want to avoid rainbow-washing.”

“The rainbow logo should have the right policies, values and activity levels to back it up,” he added.

In addition to his work within Inovia, McGraw is a mentor in Start Proud, a Canadian programme that supports career development. He advises younger talent to network within the community. “It’s important to find your allies,” he said. “Not necessarily even the non-LGBTQ+ allies, but those part of the community themselves.”

McGraw’s unwillingness to take the risk with coming out early in his career has switched completely. “Think of LGBTQ+ as an asset,” he said. “Think about how you can put that to work and make it something that helps your career.”

Editor’s note: You can read our interview with Hamilton Lane’s Ada Pospi, the previous instalment in our series of interviews featuring members of the LGBTQ+ community, here.