In early 2017, a small group of us tentatively approached our then Chief Experience Officer with a business case and a PowerPoint presentation outlining why we wanted to set up an LGBT+ network at the company. Unsure of how it would be received, we were delighted when we were barely able to get through the slides before we had our answer of "absolutely yes, you must".
With full support of our senior sponsor, we officially launched in London in November 2017 with a panel event with more than 100 colleagues and guests from across the London Insurance market. As a committee of 6 LGBT+ colleagues and allies, we have held lunch and learns on various LGBT+ topics, attended the Student Pride 2018 careers fair and London Pride, sponsored mental health awareness sessions, ally workshops, panel discussions and helped organise multiple Dive In events. One of our proudest achievements was creating rainbow lanyards and having these worn across the entire London office - this may seem small but it has had a profoundly positive impact, with it communicating the message "you are welcome here". We have also had colleagues share their personal stories to incredibly positive reception. One colleague wrote a blog post about why London Pride still matters and it was the most commented post ever to have been published on our intranet. I never would have dreamed that this would happen before we started out.
Enough about our successes! Here are some of the main things we learned:
Some people won't get it, and some of them will be LGBT+
Personally, I think the hardest conversations that we had were actually with LGBT+ colleagues who weren't sure why we needed a network. Who am I, a bisexual woman with 3 years experience, to tell a gay man with 20+ years of experience in insurance that he needs a network when he got this far without one? That conversation in particular was a reminder that within the LGBT+ community we are just as diverse in our opinions as in any other community. Where one person will want a network, another may not. I think it's great to offer people a choice to participate if they want to, but important not to force people if they don't.
Any challenges or questions were opportunities to start talking about LGBT+ issues and educate people on some of the specific issues that LGBT+ colleagues might face at work. In most cases, people came away from the conversations far more supportive than they were before and with a greater understanding of our mission.
A senior sponsor who truly cares is invaluable
We would not have made it this far without the unwavering support of our senior sponsor. Having support right from the top has been crucial to our success. This includes providing critical funding when needed (because hardly any of it could have happened for free), advocating for us at a senior level, and being a positive role model for everyone else in the organisation. It is also worth noting that the senior sponsor need not necessarily be LGBT+, ours was a dedicated ally!
People will surprise you in the nicest of ways
Some of our strongest allies have been people I never would have expected. Quite often, people are very supportive but we have no way of knowing this unless they proactively signal this to us and they haven't known how to. These allies (along with LGBT+ colleagues) are people who now wear or display our lanyards every day, regularly turn up to our events, attend the LGBT+ training we host, advocate for us, and call out unhelpful behaviour and/or comments that they see and hear. All of us in the committee have had meaningful conversations with people this year that never would have happened without the network; we've had people come out to us, apply to work for the company because they met us at Student Pride, ask us what more they can do, and ask for help understanding something LGBT+-related they previously felt too scared to ask about. The conversation has well and truly been started.
As an LGBT+ person with a chequered history of acceptance, I am so proud of all that AXA XL have achieved in the last 12 months to make LGBT+ colleagues feel truly welcome and included. Not only have LGBT+ colleagues been accepted, but they have been celebrated. It's fantastic to see so many other companies in the market starting on this journey as well and the opportunities for cross-market collaboration that this is creating. It is also worth mentioning that we certainly wouldn't be where we are today if it weren't for organisations like Link and other LGBT+ networks who have provided us with their guidance and support along the way.
A bonus lesson I learned personally is to be bold and put yourself forward for opportunities you are interested in.
From creating the group with my colleagues to becoming co-chair, there are exciting opportunities that I have actively put myself forward for or asked for that otherwise would not have happened. I always find being bold a nerve-wracking experience, but the potential rewards for doing so are huge. Even if it's a 'no' the first time around, that doesn't mean it won't be a 'yes' later on, and the only way that can happen is if you throw your hat into the ring.
Despite all our achievements, there is plenty still to do which we haven't yet been able to get to and I cannot wait to start. I would be very interested in hearing the experience of others who have been on this journey too to find out whether our experiences are shared and whether you have any sage wisdom for us as we move into our second year!
Please note that all thoughts are her own.
Project Analyst, AXA XL