Jessica Burns, XL Catlin

What is your role?
Assistant Underwriter, Graduate Trainee

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Jessica's Story
I have a little bit of an international background. I was born and raised in Bermuda and come from a big family. I then went to high school in Canada and loved my time there. I wanted to experience a new culture so I applied for universities in the UK (I had never been before) and ended up going to Warwick University and getting my bachelors in Business Management.

After university, I took a big risk and let go of a position I had secured on an accounting grad scheme at Ernst & Young in Bermuda with the hopes of getting a job in the London Insurance Market. This decision came after an internship I had in London with a company called Bermuda Foundation of Insurance Services where I realised that being an underwriter was the career I wanted to pursue. I ended up working at Chubb Tempest Re as an underwriting assistant for one year before getting onto the XL Catlin graduate program.

I have been in the London Market for almost two years now and I have been working as an International Property assistant underwriter. I love my job and the opportunities that XL Catlin provides. I launched an internal network here called Green Behaviour. The purpose of this network is to serve as a platform to talk about the global issues we are facing regarding waste and what we as individuals here at XL Catlin can do about it.

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

Having the internal LGBTQ+ network at XL Catlin, called PLUS, makes me feel like I can be who I am and be proud of it. It took a while for me to become comfortable as insurance is a very traditional market, but once I met the right people I really felt like I could bring my full self to work.

b.    Do you think there is improvement needed?  What are your ideas?
I feel like there is a big push at the moment on all fronts for diversity in the market. For example, the pride flag was flown for the first time in history this year at Lloyd’s and the current CEO of Lloyd’s, Inga Beale, is opening bisexual woman who is actively trying to dilute the “traditional culture”. We still have a long way to go and I think having more visible support from high management levels and particularly CEOs is the key to getting us there faster. Straight allies are also very important and there needs to be a way people can show their support. This is something that is being done successfully at XL Catlin, for example, people can choose to have the lanyard with the pride flag and it has been very popular. Seeing everyone wearing them makes you feel like you are in a supporting community.

What was your first motivation to be out at work and how has being out most positively influenced your experience?
My biggest motivation for being out at work oddly enough came from speaking with people who were very vocal about their “traditional values”. At the time I had only stood up and challenged those beliefs from the “straight persona” I allowed people to believe, not feeling like I needed to share my sexual orientation to make a point. However, I felt like I wasn’t being completely true to myself and eventually had a big “coming out” moment with my boss, which was the best thing I could do for myself.  It was terrifying but I feel SO much better for it.

Now I casually drop it in the conversation and have found that people are curious about it, and no one has treated me any differently, which was my biggest fear. So when off sided comments are made I take advantage of that opportunity to speak openly about myself and share how important it is to be open minded.

The support I received from the PLUS network here at XLC was incredible and I am so happy I was able to come out to them because I feel like I have gained a network of people who have similar experiences and I really value those friendships.

Can you tell us how the business has been improved by LGBTQ+ people bringing the best of themselves to work?
Having LGBTQ+ people bring them full selves to work creates a culture of acceptance; happiness and pride in the office and not just for other LGBTQ+ people but for straight allies as well. This creates an inclusive culture which is good for business because it makes people want to stay in the company.

Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
I totally get it, it is scary when you think people have these traditional views and you don’t know how it will change your relationship dynamic. Trust me, I’ve been there. I would say though that you don’t need to have a big coming out moment like I did to be out at work. It’s not like straight people have a moment where they say their sexual orientation. Find that moment to drop it in the conversation and make it seem like it’s the most casual statement, like the weather. The first time is the hardest but after that you get better at it. I try my best to treat it like it’s not a big deal and I think it makes people more comfortable to see I’m not looking for a reaction.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
To not be afraid to stand your ground when things are being said that are not right. I have been in handful of conversations professionally where things take a turn and people make really inappropriate comments about diversity. When I first started out I didn’t have the guts to say, “that’s not right”. Now that I have been in the work place longer, I use that as an opportunity to approach the topic in a very calm and factual manner. I still struggle with these conversations, but I am getting better at it. These comments and conversations are unfortunately something that anyone with any kind of diversity will be dealing with in this market, so it’s important to have thick skin and remember, you can’t change everyone’s opinions, so try and not take it all on board if someone is set in their ways.

Can you describe the moment you realised you were a role model?
I volunteer for a couple networks which help students with career guidance. A couple months ago I was asked to give a speech to the ELBA Parity, which has a sub section that helps young black men in London network for jobs. I left my card behind for anyone who wanted help with applications and interviews and a young man named Gabriel took me up on my offer. I spent time mentoring him, prepping him for interviews and learning what a rising star he is. It was in this relationship that I first found myself to be a role model.

Since then, I have taken on more mentees and continue to speak with students in the market. I really love that others can get something useful out of my experiences, whether those be navigating the waters of being a bi-sexual woman at work or simply tips for effective networking. I still have so much to learn, but it’s so nice to be able to reach my hand out to help others who aren’t far behind me in their careers.

What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?
I have a small LGBT flag sitting on top of my desktop that says “Be yourself, Be Proud” to let colleagues know I am always open to talk and to let others know I am proud of who I am. This may sound like a strange thing to do at work but I think this kind of visibility is really important. It was a big deal to put it up on my desk as I knew some people might not be very supportive but I realised that it was that exact reason why I needed to do it, to show others like me that they are not alone.

I also am an ambassador for the LGBTQ+ network at my work, which means attending events and encouraging the young professionals to come and get involved, whether they be straight or LGBTQ+.

I frequently try and talk to others about the need to do more and keep fighting the good fight. I am from Bermuda where we sadly are still fighting for the right to marry, as we have become the first country to repeal same sex marriage after legalizing it in 2017. This lit a fire in me and reminded me just how fragile our rights are, and how they have not been achieved on equal measure across the globe.

What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
Being a good role is about leading by example and not being afraid to speak up in difficult situations. It might not make you the most popular person in the room, but you shouldn’t be afraid to stand alone if it means doing the right thing.

What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
I do a lot of volunteer work at home in Bermuda, focusing on leaving this earth in a better way than we found it. I organise clean up events around the island, and use my dive training to recover large items damaging the reefs. These clean ups are where all walks of life whether you are gay, straight, black, white, rich or poor come together to protect what we love.

My involvement in volunteering with LGBTQ+ charities and groups is done mainly through work. I help XL Catlin’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Michaela Gibson, in my free time to see what charities we can support or collaborate with.

Outside of XL Catlin, I try and use social media as a platform to encourage positivity about the LGBTQ+ community. I would love to be doing more and am currently looking at ways I can volunteer with a charity called Sports Allies, which is tackling homophobia in sport.  

Who is your most memorable role model and why?
When I was working at Chubb, the only female underwriter was an inspiring and empowering woman named Lauren. She was from America and had overcome a lot in her life, having been in the foster care system growing up and then working her way up in a very male dominated industry. She inspired me to embrace being a woman, which in our industry can feel like a burden. She was most memorable role model for me by the way she conducted the room and was not afraid to speak her mind.

How did you feel coming to your first Link event?
I was really excited. There was a very supportive environment and I was taken aback by how kind and engaging everyone was. Within my couple of events I felt like I had become a part of something. 

How has the Link network helped you?
It has empowered me. This network made me realise I don’t stand alone, and I feel like I can be proud of who I am.

What do you think Link can do in the future to best serve the new generations?
Advertise more so that more people are aware of the network.