What is your role?
Assistant External Reporting Accountant
In school I learnt a lot of things; being gay wasn’t normal, was one of them. I learnt to divide myself into two different people; public James and private James. For a long time the private James, the gay James, was only for me. He had feelings that could never be discussed openly and wanted a lifestyle that growing up I didn’t really know it existed.
For four years I worked part time at a well-known fast food restaurant where, for the first time, I actually got to meet and talk to other gays. I mostly worked overnights and from 10pm to 7am I was all me! I started to train as a shift manager confident in my ability to lead others. But the customers I served everyday were especially unkind to the kind of person I was, so after a while I shut myself away again.
When I graduated with a 2:1 in Economics with Banking, the first on my side of the family to graduate university, I made a deal with private James that the next chapter (and those thereafter) were going to be his. That new chapter came in the form of a job interview at Liberty as an admin assistant. Needless to say I got the job!
It was after a year at Liberty that I came out at work and at home and haven’t looked back. I have been at Liberty for 2 and a half years and am now an assistant account where I mainly work on Lloyd’s syndicate reporting.
What factors allow you to bring your full self to work?
a. How does your environment make you feel involved and included?
The Finance team at liberty is very diverse and I am fortunate enough to work with managers and senior leadership who are also gay. I have always been treated with respect as a finance person, who happens to be gay and never a gay person, who happens to be in finance.
My work environment gives me the confidence to be my full self. It has been instilled in everyone that we can all be our unique selves, as long as we respect each other for who we are, and we all work towards the goal of being the best we can be and do the job well.
b. Do you think there is improvement needed? What are your ideas?
The insurance industry has come a long way but there is still a stigma in some quarters attached to LBGTQ+ people. Whilst companies support organisations like Link financially, I think more should be done at the executive and leadership level to communicate their support for the LBGTQ+ community. Yes, policies do exist however their implementation cannot be successful without a positive change in mind-set.
What was your first motivation to be out at work and how has being out most positively influenced your experience?
I guess I was done with pretending to be someone I wasn’t! I realised that, whether I was gay or not, people would still work with me and that being gay wasn’t ‘big thing’ that I thought it was. I also love what I do, so wanted to progress through the company and sought to ensure that I had the support of the people I worked with should I ever need it.
Can you tell us how the business has been improved by LGBT+ people bringing the best of themselves to work?
Coming to work and being your true self with no one having an expectation as to how you act, allows LGBT people the freedom to truly express and be themselves. Being able to be yourself can provide so much more happiness and such a powerful enhancement to your self-esteem which, in turn, will improve how you are at work.
By being your true self you are removing your sexuality as an issue from your work environment, as it should not dictate how you act towards others or how others act towards you. This is key to the kind of collaboration needed in a modern (re)insurance firm.
Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
By not leaving the question of sexuality to rumour and being upfront and open with your work colleagues, you feel confident in yourself. If you are confident in yourself, without the nagging anxieties of hiding who you are, you can focus on what really matters, doing the job right. Your sexuality has nothing to do with the propensity of others to take you seriously. If anything, I have found people are more receptive to my ideas when I present an authentic, confident person who believes in his ideas and himself.
What advice would you give to your younger self
Hang in there! The jokes and mean things people say may hurt now but they will make you the person you are today. Be tough, be strong and remember you have friends and family who love you for you. Never doubt that support network.
You will get challenged by people who don’t understand your journey; you are who you are and be confident in that.
Can you describe the moment you realised you were a role model?
I think I first realised when I wrote a Unique Perspectives piece to be published onto my company’s intranet page. It was the first time I’d ever publicly reflected on who I am and I was quite nervous about sharing it. But the response I got from people saying how inspirational the piece was to them, both gay and straight, it made me realise that I was setting a good example for others.
What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?For better or worse, I am always myself! By going about my professional life as the person I am in my private life I (hopefully) demonstrate that being an LGBTQ+ person does not affect my ability to be a productive and valuable member of my finance team. I am open in conversation and do not hide behind pronouns: it lets others know that being gay is normal. I am always looking for new ways to collaborate with other parts of the business on diversity. Being visible helps to ensure that I am part of the driving force in making the experience of LGBT people in the workplace a better one.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
No one learns about gay history in school, so I didn’t really know anything about my history as a gay person. It is also hard sometimes to come to understand where you fit into the LGBT community at large. Being a role model sounds scary and there is often an assumption made that you must always be a ‘champion’ for the community. But actually just being visible in your daily life fulfils this need for leadership. You don’t need to look at life continuously through the lens of advancing the LBGT community; but just being cognizant of your actions in the context of the wider community helps move everyone forward.
What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
Outside of work, for just over a year now, I have been fortunate enough to be elected a public governor for my local district: representing the views and needs of local residents at my local NHS foundation trust. I have taken everything I've learned about diversity from my time at Liberty and have sought to continuously promote the same inclusive mantra. Sure, you get the occasional eye roll but, I can guarantee you they are always in the minority.
Who is your most memorable role model and why?
Sam Smith, we are nearly the same age (he is two years older than it am) and his music personified all the feelings I had been struggling with growing up. I’ll always remember watching him accept the record of the year award at the 2015 Grammys and him saying one of his songs was about his love for another man. It was so brave.
How did you feel coming to your first Link event?
I would say I was very apprehensive about attending, at the time I hadn’t achieved much in the way of supporting my community (let alone that of the (re)insurance one!) and didn’t want to be seen as a disappointment by my peers. Actually everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming, I was amazed by the amount of support complete strangers were willing to offer to me.
How has the Link network helped you?
Link has made me more confident in myself as a gay person in insurance. By its very name you are not alone! I have access to resources and people that I would never have gotten without being part of the network. You are also acutely aware that by being part of the network you are helping advance your community.
What do you think Link can do in the future to best serve the new generations?
I think Link should do outreach to smaller firms who may be hesitant about D&I, particularly in the context of LGBTQ+ for fear of financial cost or sending out the wrong message. Link definitely has the resources to successfully help smaller firms engage positively with their staff.