What is your role?
I joined insurance straight after university on a graduate scheme in Operations at XL Catlin – I studied Economics & Management at St Peter’s College, Oxford. I am openly bisexual (although upon starting I was initially one of the 62% of graduates who go back into the closet when they start working), and am an advocate for intersectional diversity in my organisation and in the wider industry too. Noticing a gap, I co-founded XL Catlin’s London LGBT+ network, am part of a mental health working group and am a member of the women’s network. I am also a member of the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network (iCAN) and recently have become a Mental Health Champion for the London insurance market.
What factors allow you to bring your full self to work?
a. How does your environment make you feel involved and included?
I am fortunate enough to have a very supportive line manager and team who have always actively encouraged me to be myself and voice my opinion no matter how different or ‘left field’. My opinion is valued as much as everyone else’s in the team, and it is this which makes me feel involved and included despite being quite the ‘odd one out’ I never feel it. I am also encouraged to attend the D&I events that I care about, my team regularly join me at them as allies, and I am able to spend a portion of my time working on D&I initiatives like our LGBT Plus network.
b. Do you think there is improvement needed? What are your ideas?
I definitely think there is improvement still needed for the industry as a whole as there is inconsistency. Not everybody enjoys the positive experience I have had, which I believe to be a right not a privilege. There is much work to be done to raise awareness and understanding of why D&I (not just in the LGBT+ space) is important and why managers need to care about it. I think the goal is for everybody to have the same experience I have had. I think effective training of all managers in this is critical to making this improvement. Quite often senior leadership are fully on board but middle management can sometimes be left behind, especially when they are under pressure to deliver results.
What was your first motivation to be out at work and how has being out most positively influenced your experience?
My first motivation came from my mentor at the time, he was the first person I cautiously told (in fear of negative judgement and career limitation) and he encouraged me to be open about it and ‘be myself’. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders as soon as someone knew; I didn’t actually realise how much hiding my sexuality was impacting me until after I came out. It is a part of who I am and being open about it has made me feel more comfortable at work. We spend most of our lives in the office with the same people every day and it made such a difference to my productivity and general wellbeing knowing that they knew the ‘whole me’. Coming out also enabled me to actually have a positive impact on D&I in the company, and has helped me build a support network that I never would have had if I stayed in the closet. Having a network of people who are diverse in a similar way helps to build a sense of community and provides a safe space at work to discuss issues not everybody may not immediately understand.
Can you tell us how the business has been improved by LGBT+ people bringing the best of themselves to work?
There are many stats available illustrating how positively enabling LGBT+ people to bring their whole selves to work impacts businesses. One of the most hard-hitting is that employee engagement suffers by up to 30% due to unwelcoming work environments (Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion, Human Rights Campaign Foundation) – so this is not an insignificant issue. At its most basic level, allowing LGBT+ people to bring their best (and whole) selves to work simply means everyone being accepting and treating them with the same respect and dignity as they would a non-LGBT+ person. This makes for more engaged, productive, happy employees who are proud to work for their organisations, which translates to value for the business both culturally and commercially.
Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
Start with the people you trust – they may be people you work closely with every day or people completely separate to you in the organisation and go from there. Alternatively (or in addition!) I would suggest going to industry events (for example, Link’s monthly drinks). These are attended by people from a range of (re)insurance companies and it is a good way of meeting other LGBT+ people in the market and building a support network outside your own organisation.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to proudly be yourself and don’t feel like you have to hide behind the persona you think you should be. And be patient with those who would like to engage with D&I but need some education and help understanding the issues at hand, and don’t fret about the rare few who will never accept it or change!
Can you describe the moment you realised you were a role model?
I suppose when I was asked if I would sit on the panel for Link’s birthday event, although being early on in my career I still find it difficult to believe I am a role model. Having said that, I suppose I am proof that you can enjoy a career in this industry whilst being pretty diverse, and that people make a positive impact in their organisations without being extremely senior!
What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?
The main things I do day to day are treat others the way I would want to be treated, call out behaviour that is unacceptable (that’s not to say I witness this every day, of course!), help educate others and spend time explaining the issues and what’s important and if they are interested how they can personally help, and bring others on board with D&I who otherwise wouldn’t have engaged with it.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
The previous question covers most of this, but I would add it is important to demonstrate the behaviours that you yourself would look up to and actively address the issues that you care about in the workplace – push solutions to the important problems that you spot.
What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
In my spare time I volunteer as a 1:1 employability mentor with the Prince’s Trust and cook Sunday brunch at my local homeless shelter each month.
I have also taught gymnastics workshops to school girls as part of a programme called SHINE focusing on building confidence and resilience, and spoken at school outreach events for female students choosing their careers.
How did you feel coming to your first Link event?
I felt nervous and didn’t know what to expect, but was quickly put at ease by the people I met. Networking events aren’t typically my bag but it was great to meet a mix of like-minded people in an informal setting.
How has the Link network helped you?
Link were a great sounding board for us as we launched our LGBT+ network in London and enabled us to learn from other organisations that had already set up their own.
What do you think Link can do in the future to best serve the new generations?
Link has made real progress since it was set up five years ago in terms of building awareness of LGBT+ issues in the insurance industry and building the industry’s profile externally to prospective graduates. I think there is still some way to go, so for me the most important thing is for Link to continue with the good work it is doing and encourage more people at the start of their careers to join the committee and/or get involved in organising events.