Motive Partners’ Rob Heyvaert: Being gay not just okay – it’s part of life

Private equity industry still has a ‘long way to go’ for people in the LGBTQ+ community to truly feel welcome and comfortable, says Heyvaert.

Rob Heyvaert, Motive Partners

The final instalment in our series elevating LGBTQ+ voices in the private equity industry features Rob Heyvaert, founder and managing partner of New York-based Motive Partners.

For Heyvaert, Pride is about a lot more than one month of celebration. “It’s great that we have a celebration month, but it’s like a birthday,” he said.

Being a spokesperson has been his vocation from early on in his career for that reason exactly. At 27 years old, Heyvaert sold his first company, Cimad Consultants, to US multinational technology corporation IBM. When interviewed about the sale for a magazine cover story, he was asked whether he was married. “I said I was gay. The interviewer said that we probably don’t have to include that in the article – I said we should absolutely do so.”

It was important for Heyvaert to promote such a success story in Belgium, his home country. “I gave them one reason why I should do it,” he said. “Somebody will read this and say, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”

Heyvaert’s passion comes from setting an example within the industry. “Not only creating a safe space, but a place where you can feel a sense of belonging,” he said.

Work to do

The private equity industry still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ people to truly feel welcome and comfortable, according to Heyvaert. “A lot of companies try to create the right environment, but how do you make sure individuals have zero tolerance for bad behaviour?”

For Heyvaert, in addition to wider initiatives, small things can make the biggest difference. “Do some people still make ridiculous jokes in the workplace? Probably. We have to fight that more than anything.”

You don’t have to look hard to find behaviour like that. Open any comment section on social media regarding Pride events. Words such as ‘woke’ might get thrown around or claims that the LGBTQ+ community is overdoing things. “We’re not overdoing anything,” said Heyvaert.

Heyvaert is aware that it’s impossible to claim his firm is doing enough with “100 percent certainty”, but he knows Motive offers a welcoming workplace regardless of background. “We love to celebrate the stories in our company,” said Heyvaert. “We want to make sure it’s not just okay to be yourself – it’s exciting and celebrated.”

“People in our community struggle with more existential things than their work environment, but it’s a good start,” he added.

While some argue that the older generation holds the responsibility to make things better, “the younger generation holds responsibility, too”, he said. “The older generation can create a tolerant environment, and the younger makes it part of the core DNA of who we are and where we are going.”

To that younger generation Heyvaert offers some advice. “Lead by example,” he said. “I don’t like when people say, ‘It’s okay to be gay’. It’s not just okay; it’s part of life.”

Editor’s note: You can read our interview with Inovia Capital’s Michael McGraw, the previous instalment in our series of interviews featuring members of the LGBTQ+ community, here.