Mark Wells, AIG

Mark Wells.jpg

What is your role?
Automotive Motor Engineer

Mark's Story
I’ve always worked in and around the motor industry since leaving school. I started as an apprentice and my initial career progression was forced by redundancy!  I moved the commercial vehicle industry, where I progressed from Fleet Leasing into Commercial Vehicle manufacture, ambulances and just about anything specialist, with or without wheels on it.

For the last 16 years my career has been in the Insurance sector, but as with many claims based roles. It’s very much I have one foot in Insurance and the other in the Motor Industry. My progression has been fed by my inquisitive, if not sometimes tenacious nature (I have been described as a Jack Russell on more than one occasion). I now see my career as not only keeping myself the top of the game with my technical knowledge, but to also pass on my knowledge to the next generation. For this reason, I have taken on Education and General Council roles in the Institute of Automotive Engineer Assessors.  I am one of the few ‘out’ LGBT members.

What factors allow you to bring your full self to work? 
a. How does your environment make you feel involved and included?
AIG have been a real breath of fresh air. Their employee induction introduced me to the STEP, their Employee Resource Group for LGBT+.  For the first time in 30 years of working, I felt open enough to be completely honest in sharing my sexuality with others. Their events and the networks it has opened me up to have really given me confidence and has enabled me bring my whole self to work.  It also introduced me to Link, which has been a great networking tool, proving that I’m not the only gay in the village!

b. Do you think there is improvement needed?  What are your ideas?
There is always room for improvement! Certainly the Motor Industry is still a very white straight heterosexual male dominated. The same could be said for parts of the Insurance sector too. I’m pretty certain there are many other industries in the same place, but we, as insurance professionals, have an opportunity to share our story. By doing that, we can help those areas where we interface.  Diversity at all levels is good; the more someone can be open and their true selves, the more benefit they can bring to not only their employers business, but industry and society.

What was your first motivation to be out at work and how has being out most positively influenced your experience?
I came out when I was 21 and it wasn’t easy. For those who know me they wouldn’t think I used to be a shy and withdrawn shrinking violet! For years I used to wear a ‘wedding ring’ just so I wouldn’t get asked questions. One moment especially sticks out though:

I took a call from a fleet engineer of a large customer of my employer. I was asked if it was true I was gay (or to be exact, is it true I’m an F*@*&ng poof). After asking for the question to be repeated, my response was positive: "Yes I was" That person then asked if I was ashamed of myself….  I said "I was certainly not but was he?!".  Nothing more was ever said.

The world has moved on since that incident in 1996 and despite the usual sniggers behind hands or jokes in poor taste, I vowed that I would never be perceived as being ashamed. This has not only given me confidence, but has lead others to ask questions and I have helped others who may have been struggling on their journey.

Can you tell us how the business has been improved by LGBT+ people bringing the best of themselves to work?
Insurance is about finding bespoke solutions to our customers’ requirements. Speaking personally, by being myself at work, the energy I was using to hide who I am has been channeled into my work. It also means I can bring my understanding of a particular community and am able to apply that to a claims situation. I also see how my LGBT colleagues, being able to be themselves, have bought a different thought process and viewpoint that has really driven innovation and success in the industry.

Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
Don’t be forced, but don’t be afraid also. Sometimes it’s easier to be out at work than at home and certainly for me, it built my support networks and confidence in order to be able to make the next step at home and stand up to those challenges.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t ever be photographed with your shirt off!

Can you describe the moment you realised you were a role model?
I’m not really sure. Perhaps natural modesty kicks in, but I recall talking about one of my role models Jim, to a much younger LGBT colleague and friend. When they said to me I’m their Jim I realised that I’m looking old, or perhaps I am their role model.

What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?
I’m proud to show the AIG Step laptop sticker and tent on my desk to show I’m am proud of who I am and that AIG support that. I’m far more open to outside suppliers and customers. In a recent meeting I actively corrected someone when they asked "does your wife share your passion for classic cars?" The person was very apologetic, but it was important not to pass it by. Others in the company hear my responses and I hope it gives them confidence to do so too.

What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
Be yourself and let the whole world see that it's ok to do so.  It’s also important to stand up to stereotypes . I often hear people say we have LGBT+ equality and same sex marriage, so why do we need these groups?  I point out that there are plenty of others who are still not treated equally in our communities and it is down to us to continue carrying the torch and having those conversations, just as generations have done before us.

What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
I’m an active member of Link up North and am working to help facilitate a greater presence in Manchester. I’m a point of contact between AIG and the Albert Kennedy Trust and help to promote the charity outside of AIG. I’m also an active member of the Gay Classic Car Group.  We publicised that many insurers actively encourage diversity within insurance and the benefits of Link during the NEC Classic Car show on the GCCG stand.

Who is your most memorable role model and why?
A close friend, much older than me, Jim Higgins. He had lived through the dark times and good and really showed me how to be a gay man in a not particularly hospitable world, dusting myself down and getting on with life.

How did you feel coming to your first Link event?
It was very accessible, it was easy to network and I soon fitted in very well.

How has the Link network helped you?
Link has been an amazing breath of fresh air. My previous employer had and LGBT network, but at that time did absolutely the square sum of nothing. There was little to no communication and it felt like a waste of time. I heard of Link, and particularly Link up North and went along to a talk about Trans issues. I confessed to having little understanding yet alone interest: I came away with a real changed viewpoint, which has completely changed the way I react and support that part of our community.

What do you think Link can do in the future to best serve the new generations?
I think Link as with all LGBT organisations, needs to remind itself of its purpose and not to fall into the trap that the next generation is accepting and understands LGBT issues, just because they have been bought up in a different era. It’s also good that Link doesn’t focus on just issues, but the networking and social aspect also.