1. What is your role?
Born and raised in Bristol, University in Birmingham and Berlin via a brief stint in Istanbul, moved to London, then back to Bristol, now living and working in York.
What factors allow you to bring your full self to work?
a. How does your environment make you feel involved and included?
The Aviva Pride network is key to making me feel involved and included. All kinds of visible symbols – from ally lanyards to Pride flags – remind me that it’s ok to be myself at work.
b. Do you think there is improvement needed? What are your ideas?
There are still incidents of bullying that go on, and I’ve received my fair share of low-level or under-the-radar hostility. I think there needs to be a clearer anti-bullying policy, with examples of language that will not be tolerated, and it needs to be enforced all the way down.
What was your first motivation to be out at work and how has being out most positively influenced your experience?
I went back in the closet after university and while I was working at Friends Life. We were bought out by Aviva in 2015 and the Aviva Pride group was advertised on the intranet, where Friends Life had had nothing before. When I came out – post Aviva Pride contact – I was amazed by how relieved and engaged I felt, and how positive (or neutral, which is also good) peoples’ responses were.
How has the business has been improved by LGBT+ people bringing the best of themselves to work?
Not only do LGBT people perform once they’re out of the closet, but a critical mass coming out creates an environment where straight people can talk about their mental health, or relationships, in more nuanced ways, and feel accepted as well. It’s been a step change for the whole organisation.
Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
It’s not up to you to bear the burden of keeping a secret. Put it out there and let other people spend their emotional energy processing it. Their reactions are their problem. You have the right to speak your truth and get on with your one wild and precious life.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
There is no shame in being LGBT. The shame is in being homophobic, biphobic and transphobic. Let those people feel ashamed of themselves, if they can. It’s not your responsibility to cater to their feelings and make them feel less uncomfortable.
Can you describe the moment you realised you were a role model?
When I was able to tell people things they didn’t already know. For a surprising amount of my family, friends and colleagues I’m the first out bisexual they’ve met. Giving answers to genuine questions has been instructive for others in getting a bisexual perspective, and also for me in understanding typical gaps in others’ knowledge.
What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?
I’m an ally to the other letters of the LGBT alphabet, and to all diversity strands. Championing visibility and acceptance for people that identify the way I identify, without raising up BAME trans people for example, is not something I could countenance.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
Listen first. People bring all kinds of baggage to Diversity and Inclusion conversations, and may be struggling with rejection and isolation even if they’re straight, or gender identity issues even if they’re cis. Be compassionate and understanding, every interaction needs to be a two-way process. To quote Maya Angelou: people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
I spoke at a role models event for ProudBristol: as the only bisexual out of seven speakers, I had to set aside the pressure to speak for all bisexuals, and just be true to my experience, and received some really lovely feedback. Having moved to York, I am now getting involved with Link Up North and the York LGBT Forum. I’ve set up a bisexual caucus group within Aviva, which I’m promoting to other organisations as something they should consider. I’m hoping we’ll be able to attend BiCon this year and talk with all kinds of bisexuals from all over the country! I’ll be attending Pride parades in York and London in the summer, off the back of a very successful showing at Bristol Pride last July, and actually winning Pride Bristol Employer of the Year on behalf of Aviva: http://bristolpride.co.uk/gala/. I’ve also been featured as a bisexual role model in a leaflet for Bristol City Council: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/equality/documents/out-in-the-workplace.pdf
Who is your most memorable role model and why?
Frank Ocean, for changing the way we see black masculinity, and for opening a space in hip hop for men to be tender, gentle, caring, and maybe even bisexual.
How did you feel coming to your first Link event?
The first Link event I attended was for World Aids Day 2015, I was nervous, and felt a bit intimidated. By the end of the evening I was feeling welcomed and included, and really inspired.
How has the Link network helped you?
I’ve heard speakers from Terrence Higgins Trust on two occasions at Link events, which has really helped me understand more about HIV and AIDS. It motivated me to run a World Aids Day event at Aviva, where we had an incredible HIV positive speaker and activist. The conversation was fascinating and at times challenging, because of the rates we offer HIV positive applicants for life and health insurance. I really want to do more in this area within the industry, to better serve our HIV positive customers.
What do you think Link can do in the future to best serve the new generations?
Push for more trans understanding and acceptance, I think we as an insurance industry have a long way to go in this space. Graduates coming into the industry now are more likely to identify as trans or non-binary than ever before – let’s make them welcome.