myGwork’s George Wright sat down to chat with Kate Berriman, Disruption Lead at Organon, to discuss growing up, change, and the impact that support for the LGBTQ+ community – or lack of it – has


I sat down to talk with Kate at opposite ends of our day. Just as I am starting mine – and we joke about coffee in the morning – Kate, who is dialling into our meeting from Australia, is finishing hers.

Kate describes the environment she grew up in as “conservative.” Attending a private Anglican high school, she quickly got the impression that it was “not okay to be gay,” based on how students who were gay – or perceived as much – were treated. The school was more of a convenience than a conscious choice, Kate describes, with her parents wanting her to attend a private school but leaving enrolment late. “It was actually quite a nice place to go when I was 13 or 14,” she recalls, “but the school got progressively more and more religious.”

Following this education, Kate progressed to university, which she found to be a much more accepting space. “It was a big melting pot of all different people that never had had the privilege of being exposed to such diversity before,” which Kate felt helped her to become “her own person,” and develop in herself. Free of social expectations placed on her by her school, Kate was able to embrace her identity and be out and open within her university network, living authentically.

Credit: Kate Berriman

While university was a place where Kate felt she could be out – something she attributes to how open and non-judgmental everyone was – home was another matter. Going to university but living at home, Kate likens the situation to living in two different worlds. While her and her peers were slowly outgrowing the homes they had grown up in, she still had to come back to that home where she was not out. Eventually, Kate came to date one of the girls on her ski team and the two worlds collided as she came out at home.

“My mum cried,” she recalls, “and said ‘boys aren’t going to want to date you anymore.’ To which I responded was the point.” Her father was at first against her bringing her partner home, although Kate clarifies that her parents have come a long way since then and are now much more supportive.

In 2017, Australia hosted a public vote on whether or not to legalise marriage equality. For many LGBTQ+ people in Australia, it felt like their lives were suddenly on trial, as everyone from their family, to their colleagues, to strangers on buses had to take a position on whether or not the LGBTQ+ community deserved the right to marry. Kate says she was lucky. “I was working for MSD at the time and they were publicly supportive of same-sex marriage. Having that kind of strong public position at work was incredibly supportive.” At home, Kate’s family were equally supportive – Kate was surprised to discover that even her grandmother had voted in favour of same-sex marriage.

Credit: Kate Berriman

However, even after the victory for the LGBTQ+ community, with marriage equality being introduced in 2018, the rhetoric didn’t go away. Even as recently as this year’s parliamentary elections, the then-governing party were promising to introduce laws protecting “religious freedoms” – seen by many as a blank check for organisations to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. But, as Kate points out, these laws were rejected when the Government realised it didn’t have support in Parliament and the government in question went on to lose the election; a suggestion that perhaps the public is starting to reject this rhetoric in favour of supporting progressive causes.

The supportive atmosphere at MSD is something that Kate is very grateful for. Starting the ANZ chapter of the  LGBTQ+ inclusion network , Kate joined her colleagues at an event MSD had put on for Wear It Purple Day – the last Friday of August when people celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and commit to supporting safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth. It was at this event that Kate decided to come out to the entire company. “I’m really proud of who I am. It’s not always easy to be proud, and I’d like to do something about that.” Kate went on to lead MSD’s LGBTQ+ network, the Rainbow Alliance, for two years before joining Organon and -leading the APJ and ANZ Pride Network chapters. “It’s something that’s really important to me, having grown up in an environment where it wasn’t always so welcoming and inclusive. And just kind of from a passion of wanting everyone to feel like they can belong at work, which is such a big component of adult life.”

When asked about what she thinks has most informed her worldview, Kate stops to consider. Ultimately, after weighing up the options, she settles on her belief in questioning things, particularly authority. That curiosity, she believes, and that readiness to ask “why” in the face of directions, is what has been so formative to her. Recalling growing up, Kate describes how she didn’t particularly push boundaries, compared to her younger brother who very much did so. However, this curiosity and readiness to ask questions now lead her mother to describe her as the rebel in the family. “I said I hadn’t done anything bad in school, to which my mother said ‘it’s just the attitude.’” This forms much of the advice that Kate would give: keep asking questions. Whether it comes across as “incessantly annoying” or not, Kate believes that questioning – and wanting an answer beyond “because I said so” has served her quite well to date. “Don’t feel guilty about being who you are – I took the label of ‘you don’t fit the status quo’ and ran with it.”

Organon are proud partners of myGwork, the LGBTQ+ business community. Find out more about job opportunities on their profile.

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