What is your role?
Global Head of Resilience and Sustainability
I always had an interest in environmental issues even though I’m a political economist by training. I started my career as an investment banker, which I didn’t particularly enjoy. I didn’t come out until my last six months working in banking. Eight years ago I found an exciting opportunity in insurance that brought together my interests in finance, economic, climate change, and policy. I made a decision to come out from the get go this time and haven’t looked back. I’m in my third role in the insurance industry and get to meet all sorts of amazing people from around the world and influence how Aon approaches the topics of climate and disaster risk finance
What factors allow you to bring your full self to work?
a. How does your environment make you feel involved and included?
There is a clear culture of inclusion set from the top. When your CEO, both global and country level, speaks about these issues it empowers you to feel open and included. I work with colleagues around the world so this is really important.
b. Do you think there is improvement needed? What are your ideas?
Until we live in a perfect world, which seems a long way off, there will always need to be improvement. We need LGBT colleagues in senior leadership roles to be out and let colleagues know that being yourself shouldn’t preclude you from opportunities. Finally, we need a culture of respect. Being out at work shouldn’t be seen as having an ‘agenda’. It’s simply about being yourself and feeling relaxed about who you are so you can do your best. Everyone has personal opinions, but respect is key. When colleagues are out, it’s an opportunity to build respect.
What was your first motivation to be out at work and how has being out most positively influenced your experience?
I felt trapped not being out at work. I was out since I was 18 and never held this back until I started my first job in banking. Going back into the closet, even if only at work, was difficult and probably contributed to my frustration with my job. I decided I would look to other opportunities outside banking and that gave me the courage to just take the step and come out to my colleagues as I had nothing to lose. The reaction was on the whole positive, though I had some interesting questions. When I started my first job in insurance at Aon, I brought it up with my manager right away as I wanted to make sure that didn’t hang over my head like it did before. I was free to focus on my work and be myself, which gave me a huge increase in confidence.
Can you tell us how the business has been improved by LGBT people bringing the best of themselves to work?
All organisations work at their best when people are at their best. You can’t be on top form unless you feel you don’t have to hold back any part of yourself. It’s impossible for your personal life not to come up if you want to forge genuine relationships and partnerships with your clients, colleagues, and other contacts. When you feel confident and don’t have to hold back, there is more trust, the discussions are more lively, and the opportunities clearer.
Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
Everyone’s circumstances are different so I can’t tell you what to do. What I can say is that more often than not coming out is this huge anti-climactic experience. That’s not to say that everyone will immediately want you to be their gay best friend, but my experience has been that the anxiety about coming out can be all consuming. It’s unlikely to be the negative experience you think it might. If things don’t go well, that might be a sign that you’re working in the wrong team or organisation, which is a huge opportunity for you to find something better and bring all of your talents in a way they will be value.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
People want you to be relaxed and human to feel comfortable working with you. That means being you and being open about your life with people you work with. That being said, people don’t really care about your personal life either. We all have lives outside work. People care that you have this, but not what you do with it.
Can you describe the moment you realised you were a role model?
While I’ve been out at work for a while and been involved with Link since its inception, it wasn’t really until I started being completely open and out to people in offices in other parts of the world when I realised I was a role model. People would mention they saw that I was involved in D&I initiatives or would ask about my personal life, so inevitably the LGBT topic would come up. It was a great opportunity to share what we have been doing in the UK and how that might be replicated elsewhere.
What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?
I make sure that I stay involved with LGBT+ initiatives that tackle some of the more difficult challenges, such as LGBT+ issues at work in countries where this may be a legal challenge. Most of all, I do my best at work every day. When and if the question of my sexuality comes up, people will think about what a good job I do at work, which I hope is an inspiration to other LGBT colleagues who may feel less visible.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
Role models give hope. Talk about your experiences and share your story. Everyone’s story is different. At the end of the day role models are people that we want to emulate in some way. You have to do your job well and you have to stand up for what you believe, while being mindful of others. You’re taking people on a journey.
What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
For many years I was on the steering committee of Link and I still try to stay as involved as possible. It’s easy to get caught up in the initiatives your own organisation or industry is focused on, but this is such a big business issue, not to mention the right thing to do, you need to look wider. There are some great initiatives taking place, such as Open for Business, and I want to make sure I’m forging connections with interesting people and topics to make sure LGBT colleagues know there is so much support going on in the world business.
Who is your most memorable role model and why?
Could you have asked a more difficult question? I think that depends on what context. Certainly my parents have been huge role models. They taught me to be curious, empathetic, and respectful. In the workplace, my first boss in the insurance industry, Bill, was a tremendous role model as he taught me how to navigate difficult situations and communicate to different constituencies. Most importantly, he demonstrated that a balance of honesty and fun is necessary for you to do your best. He was the first boss I came out to and I have a lot to thank him for.
How did you feel coming to your first Link event?
Excited. While I wasn’t out in banking, I was aware of the Interbank network and went to one or two events. Link was the first time the insurance industry was trying to do something similar, so I was excited to meet people in the industry I might not have met otherwise. Most importantly, it showed that there were far more LGBT folks in our industry than I ever imagined.
How has the Link network helped you?
Link helped me forge many new business relationships and friendships. It’s given me a platform to engage colleagues the world over and show folks that we are not the backward industry people think we are. A lot of my role is focused on innovation and I work with many people from outside the industry. Link is a great example to show people who view insurance as a dinosaur industry that we’re actually much more inclusive than you think. That’s important for recruitment.
What do you think Link can do in the future to best serve the new generations?
Keep the talent fresh. We need new people from all backgrounds and ages. Getting new perspectives will keep the agenda relevant, while making sure we don’t give up on tough challenges. Communication has improved a lot and we need to continue to improve on that. When people feel they are part of a community, they want to be involved. Link is the facilitator of the LGBT community in insurance.