Karen Graves, SCOR

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What is your role?
Head of Operations EMEA Hub & Group BCM

Karen's Story
I come from Leicester, via a comprehensive school education, and moved to London when I was 18 to study Politics & Government at City of London Polytechnic (before it got a fancy rename as London Metropolitan University). I fell into the insurance industry in the City by chance really, by temping for a broking firm once I got my degree. During my career I have worked for a Members and Managing agencies, all within the Lloyd’s environment until working for SCOR SE, via the Compliance and then Operations side of the business. The most enjoyable role was being the MD of a Managing Agency: I loved this as we were able to make fast and focussed decisions. The pace of decision making and being reactive to opportunities is a way of experiencing the more creative side of this business. I also have a Post Graduate Diploma in Law and am currently studying for an MA in Art History which is purely for pleasure but a passion of mine. Over the last 30 years I have seen some real and positive changes in the London market regarding opportunities for talent to emerge. I really believe that it is important to be able to be your true self at work, as this just allows you to bring your personality into what you do and that frees people to be successful.

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

I work in a market which is open to differences on many levels and that, combined with a positive corporate attitude, can make a huge difference.  In the past I experienced prejudice, and that experience always leaves you with regrets: that you couldn’t make a difference, or that you left unfinished business. A culture of acceptance and openness, with the focus on creativity for the business, is at the top of my list of why I would want to work for a specific company. From a gender perspective and an LGBT lens I think there is still a way to go to really turn positive feelings and acceptance into practice.  One of the best things about the environment in the London Market is the people and I see relationships that get forged over many years based on mutual respect and admiration. I wish we could build on this to further inclusion and respect differences.

b.  Do you think there is improvement needed?  What are your ideas?
From a female perspective, particularly regarding senior levels of the business, we have some way to go to improve the presence of women and celebrate the difference they can bring and make at Board level. I think we need to see more structured programs in place to tackle this. I am not a fan of quotas but maybe in the early days of addressing this imbalance then targets need to be set. I also think companies need to ask themselves if they cater well enough for the needs of all colleagues. Creating an environment of acceptance requires action, and the needs of LGBT colleagues and others need to be understood and engaged with. Unconscious bias is something that needs to be tackled and actively on the agenda of all companies.

What was your first motivation to be involved with the LGBT+ community? How has this most positively influenced your experience?
When I was 17 I experienced my first real exposure to outrageous prejudice against a black friend, and whilst I appreciate this is not LGBT orientated it has stayed with me as an example of active discrimination. From then I have always tried to treat people as I find them without preconceptions. I have lots of friends who are part of the LGBT community and to not support them would be just daft. I know titles or names can often be a bad thing, but I loved it when I found I could be classed as an Ally.  Why would you want to work or socialise in an environment that doesn’t have a mix of people? Differences are to be celebrated and it’s where change and great ideas come from.

How has the business has been improved by LGBT+ people bringing the best of themselves to work?
Business and decision making are only improved when you have a mix of people working together. Ideas are refreshed, and LGBT colleagues help get companies involved with networks and organisations that allow the business to be revitalised by new attitudes. Working with people who can feel that they can express themselves fully is creative and fun.

Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
Lots of organisations these days have LGBT networks etc. but it is the first step in anything that is always the hardest. Look around at the people you work with, not necessarily those in your same team, and find that person you feel you can talk to. When I say look, I really mean look, they are not always the most obvious choice. It is important to talk as it puts things into perspective: problems and fears become manageable once shared.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Well, I’m tempted to say you shouldn’t have partied so much in the ‘80’s! … but really, I would have told myself to have more self-confidence and belief and just be braver. I think we all have a desire to fit in on some level, but as I’ve got older and reconnected with some of the interests and passions I had when I was younger, I realise it’s our differences that define us as individuals and make us special, and we need to celebrate differences and show people our value as individuals. 

Can you describe the moment you realised you were a role model?
NO!! I don’t actively think like that, but, if I am, then that brings with it a sense of responsibility to make sure that I promote and follow the principles I believe in and are important to me.

What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?
I try to act in a way that represents my beliefs. I call out prejudice when I see it happening and that can be from a LGBT, gender or racial perspective for example. One of the advantages of age is that you get less bothered by how you appear and you can have a voice. It’s important that we use our voices to generate changes in attitudes and opportunities. I also like my day to be fun, on some level, every day. You must enjoy life and what you do and communicate that to those around you. Clearly, we must take business seriously, but the environment we work in and moments through the day need to balance this out.  Kindness is a much under rated quality in business but one I think we all need to remember.

What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
Be authentic, and if you see prejudice try and find a way to change it. Work out what it is that really fires you up and go and be positive to encourage change in that area. Be approachable and learn to listen. Sometimes these days in a world that is racing along we need people to listen, not necessarily with a goal to provide answers, but to just hear what’s being said. Solutions often come from that simple act.

What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
I act as a mentor to young women outside of my company and look to try and support and find opportunities for senior individuals leaving the Armed Forces – men and women. I also took on the Chair of iWIN (Independent Women in Insurance Network) late in 2017 as this is an area that is important to me: I have worked for a long time in this market and thought that opportunities for women in this arena would be more easily available that they were back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I’m not sure that this is true. We have parity from a gender perspective in new people joining the market, but this is not reflected in the senior levels of organisations, and I want to try and find ways of positively promoting the qualities that women can bring to organisations and engage the support of male colleagues in this journey.

Who is your most memorable role model and why?
I have a huge admiration for Mary Wollstonecraft as a writer and philosopher, in 1792 she was stressing the importance of women having an education equal to men. I try and promote the importance of education whenever I can – I know how it helped me and still continues to. Also, her quote “I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves” is something I relate to and try to follow as a message of inclusion. Check out “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” and there is a campaign I support called www.maryonthegreen.org which is campaigning to have a statue of her placed on Newington Green where she established a girls’ school at the age of 24.

As a little more background she married William Godwin and was the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. She was a real force of nature in her beliefs and that is something I admire.

How did you feel coming to your first Link event?
Link events are great – what’s not to like about getting together with friends and making new ones at events that look to bring people together in a space that recognises personality and talent.

How has the Link network helped you?
It’s great having a focal point specific to the insurance market for LGBT matters.

What do you think Link can do in the future to best serve the new generations?
Keep rolling really – ensure that the topics and conversations continue to be relevant for business and supporters and ensure inclusion is promoted.