Erik Johnson, Pioneer Underwriters

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What is your role?
Corporate Development Manager

Erik's Story
I was born in Canada and am a dual UK / Canadian national.

Before I started in insurance I boarded at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and then danced professionally for a few years before an injury sent me off to university, where I completed a BComm (Distinction) in Finance, Risk Management, & Insurance.

I joined Marsh’s North American Graduate Scheme and after a few years as a Client Manager in Calgary I decided to move to London to complete an MSc Insurance & Risk Management, supported by the Risk & Insurance Management Society.

When I decided that I wanted to stay in London I joined Deloitte, where I worked on M&A and strategy projects in insurance.

Looking to ‘get my hands dirty’ in insurance I returned to the insurance market working in Strategy at Lloyd’s.

I was lucky enough to be involved in Link from the start, being one of its first Co-Chairs and getting to work with a dedicated group of volunteers who have built Link into a successful and influential cross-market network.

A recent highlight for me was leading the project team that delivered the largest new Lloyd’s syndicate start-up in over 15 years.

What factors allow you to bring your full self to work? 
a. How does your environment make you feel involved and included?

I have always been included at work and felt comfortable being gay. Knowing that there are other LGBT staff at work (who I met at Link events in the past) and having a mentor recommend the role to me helped me be comfortable from day one. It also helps that Pioneer encourages all people to be who they are and come to work as they like, with a casual approach to ‘work attire’ and where we recruit people who are successful, which generally means because they are different.

Do you think there is improvement needed?  What are your ideas?
Companies should signpost their D&I policies on their websites and have a link to Link, signalling to new and existing staff that being LGBT will lead them to be included like everyone else.

What was your first motivation to be out at work and how has being out most positively influenced your experience?
When I moved to London and learning from my experience not being completely out at my first job in insurance I decided that I wanted to be out from before I started. This was made easier for me as I moved to London with a partner, so ensuring that he felt comfortable coming to work events with me gave me added incentive to be out.

Being out at work has enabled me to avoid any fear or insecurity of being ‘outed’. This is very empowering. If you are in the closet you are giving other people power to make you feel uncomfortable or threatened. By being out you take away that power, which is incredibly empowering.

How has the business been improved by LGBT+ people bringing the best of themselves to work?
LGBT+ people can just get on with it. They don’t need to worry about what they say, switching him / her to ‘they’. Instead their energies can be focused on making better relationships with colleagues and coming up with solutions to benefit their business.

The energy that can be spent by LGBT+ employees in the closet can be draining. By being included and out at work LGBT+ colleagues can focus on what they do best, insurance.

I also believe that people can tell if you are hiding something. This lack of authenticity makes it harder to develop solid relationships. We work in a relationship business, so being able to be comfortably out in business will enable LGBT employees to build more and better relationships, which will benefit business.

Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
Don’t worry and come out like it is just any other conversation. The more nervous you get and the bigger deal you make it, the more stressful it will be. You are likely much more worried about how people will react than what will happen in reality!

My advice is when talking to a colleague shift from saying “after work I went out with friends” and instead say “I went to a networking event for Link, the LGBT Insurance Network” or “I was out with my boyfriend”. Your colleague will either ask a question and you can elaborate or will continue the conversation as they would any other day.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t wait to come out at work, be out a work from the start. Often, you being nervous or uncomfortable about coming out is just that, you. Remember, most people don’t care if you are LGBT so give them a chance to accept you for who you are from day one.

Describe the moment you realised you were a role model?
A graduate had joined my firm and when having a coffee one day he said that seeing me be out at work, sitting in the executive area of the office, and being included like everyone else, made him comfortable being himself at work. I said to him that seeing a young grad be out and comfortable in the office made him a role model to me. Funny that!

What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?
I am myself at work, I talk about my work with Link and other diversity networks with colleagues, business partners, and service providers.

I invite my partner to work and industry events.

I put myself forward as a volunteer for leadership roles in market organisations, so that others can see that being LGBT is not a barrier and engaging with people in the market who may not have had much exposure to gay people.

I encourage other people to get involved in market talent and diversity initiatives.

What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
Recognise that you are a role model. Everyone is modelling behaviours, you just may not recognise it.

Get involved in D&I initiatives in your firm and the wider insurance industry.

Raise your profile, it can be a small as attending a Link event to as big as organising a D&I event as part of the Dive In Festival. Your actions make a difference and people are watching.

What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
I am a founding member of Inclusion@Lloyd’s and currently working on a way to better engage and support cross-market D&I networks.

I helped a group of talented volunteers establish iCAN, the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network.

I am helping support the establishment of a London Market wellbeing network.

I am a member of Council and Nominations Committee of the Insurance Institute of London, encouraging a recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion to the vibrancy of the institute.

Who is your most memorable role model and why?
Paul Jardine of XL Catlin.

Paul stepped forward to support Link from day one and spoke at Link’s launch event. He helped generate support from other market executives and always has an eye on the bigger picture.  I recall when he agreed to speak at Link’s launch that some photos of him appeared in the trade press. He mentioned that some people in the market had ‘teased him’ about being gay and his response was “so what if I am!”.  His experience of even being teased in jest about his sexuality, just for being associated with Link, helped make the case that there was a need for groups like Link and that the industry needed to move to a place where being LGBT or being associated with an LGBT event would not lead to even light-hearted jokes.

How did you feel coming to your first Link event?
The first official Link event was an event that I was involved in organising.  I was nervous and excited to help facilitate the event where we sought input from people from across the insurance market on what a cross-market LGBT network should do.

How has the Link network helped you?
It has provided me with the opportunity to develop my leadership skills and the confidence to help build other cross-market D&I networks

Link has provided me with a great network for business and social purposes in the London Market

What do you think Link can do in the future to best serve the new generations?
Continue to build its profile within insurance so that more firms have details of Link on their websites and intranets; enabling new joiners to connect with Link as soon as they join the profession

Support market-wide talent initiatives such as the London Market Group’s ‘London Insurance Life Ambassadors’ programme and the Chartered Insurance Institute’s ‘Discover Risk’ campaign

Engage with other networks groups to help break down diversity silos and encourage true inclusion as we work together to build the next generation of insurance talent

Continue to build out groups outside of London modelled on ‘Link Up North’ with chapters in key insurance centres such as New York, Bermuda, Switzerland, and Singapore