Pamela Thomson-Hall, Willis Towers Watson

Pamela Thompson-Hall.jpg

What is your role?
Managing Director of International

Pamela's Story
I joined Willis 19 years ago from the very traditional, male dominated world of a law firm to the equally traditional insurance industry, but have been lucky enough to work for leaders who have valued and sponsored me based on my ability and not my gender.  Their trust and confidence in me doing the right things means every day I come to work to do my job, and making it my own, knowing I have this backing.  Even so, confidence and courage still play a huge part in me being myself at work and I work at it every day.  As a woman in (historically) a man’s industry and workplace, I have learned techniques that get my voice heard and make my messages impactful.  Those have stood me in good stead throughout my career so far.  Working now as a business leader, across 72 countries from LatAm to Australia, with Africa, Middle East and Asia in between, my every day is filled with diversity challenges.  I chair our International I&D council and, following a significant tri-partite company merger in 2016, have leveraged our inclusion and diversity activities across our (often emerging) markets as part of our post-merger integration activity to reach our new population, making them feel an integrated and valued part of our colleague community. 

What was your first motivation to be involved with the LGBT+ community? How has this most positively influenced your experience?
a. How does your environment make you feel involved and included?
At work I lead by example and work with leaders and in teams who practice inclusive behaviours in their everyday activities.  We work constantly on our behaviours and techniques to foster teamwork and ensure contributions from all are heard.  Part of showcasing our commitment is to have and promote an active LGBT+ Inclusion Network, as well as with other inclusion networks for minorities.  These networks, dedicated to supporting our colleagues, work hand-in-glove with the business leaders to set direction and keep the business policies and processes relevant. And we make this visible – be it our digital poster campaigns on site, our client facing campaigns, or our global support of Pride.  Being visible and authentic in our support of our beliefs, calling out bad behaviours, even when uncomfortable, are key.

b. Do you think there is improvement needed?  What are your ideas?
We can all do better always, learning and being agile is key to the success of our work in this arena and our work is therefore constantly evolving, as it should.  We learn from and listen to others, share best practices and understand what has and hasn’t worked well so that we can correct and reposition as appropriate.  This is a necessary part of staying relevant.   Role modelling is key and showcasing role models in a safe environment is something we need to do more of. And when we no longer discuss diversity, or make reference to minorities, we have achieved our goals but until then we are committed to talking, without apology, about the things that matter to move the dial and lead the way on I&D.  

What was your first motivation to be involved with the LGBT+ community? How has this most positively influenced your experience?
I was immersed in a diverse team on all fronts but as a manager became shockingly aware of the complex web of lies and subterfuge of a colleague who had hid their true self at work for over ten years.  For complex reasons, I found myself having to respond to this colleague’s request to join in their pretence – in supporting this I struggled initially to understand why this was necessary.  Why in this day and age you wouldn’t be yourself.  What a loss of time and waste of effort.  Through this colleague and others I developed a deep understanding for the hidden challenges.  It’s easy to be seen as a minority or different as a woman in a man’s world and work to correct.  Not so in the complex world of LGBT+ issues.

How has the business has been improved by LGBT+ people bringing the best of themselves to work?
The commercial dividend from having a diverse and inclusive workforce is hard to measure but easy to feel.  People are more energised and actively engaged in everyday business activities, generating enthusiasm and creating an innovative environment that people want to be part of.  Clients feel it and we feel it.  From walking into our main office of 4000 people in London and standing in the lift, we see and hear the diversity that has been developed; it is being remarked upon and we owe that in large part to our visible leadership sponsorship of LGBT+ and other diversity initiatives and activities.  

As part of our global Pride campaign - #BeYouatWTW - our focus was on creating a culture at work where everyone can be themselves and their best.  We publicised the importance of people being themselves at work, asked members of our LGBT+ network to share their experiences. These stories have inspired and encouraged others to believe that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are valued and can be successful at WTW as well as helping our leaders and colleagues understand the issues that affect our LGBT+ colleagues. In 2017 we introduced a UK Gender Transition policy to support and embrace colleagues who are considering gender transition or already in the process. We are committed to having a culture at work where everyone can be themselves regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
Seek an ally and find a safe environment in which to explore your strategy for coming out.  Share concerns with colleagues who have come out and learn about tactics that have worked and haven’t.  But do this for you, when you are ready; and you will know when you are ready.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Trust your instincts and focus on the things you can change – build on your strengths, and don’t get too distracted by your weaknesses.

Can you describe the moment you realised you were a role model?
When someone cried in a presentation I made about my not so glamourous upbringing and path to leadership.  I realise it gave them hope for their own future and that was empowering for them, it strengthened my resolve to focus on mentoring as a way to support talent.

What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?
I speak up and am not afraid to be judged for what I believe in.

What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
Lead by example and be clear and consistent in your behaviours so people can have trust and confidence in your actions.

What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
I’ve just spent the day in a primary school talking to girls about how to have courage in everyday life.  A tough gig when the wide-eyed 11 year olds have more courage to be themselves than I see every day in the workplace.  I work closely with my children’s schools on role modelling adult behaviours and sharing life experiences, be it a talk about the wonders of India, the challenges of managing conflict in the work playground or the important of presentation skills to make your message impactful.  The world is a rapidly changing place, I marvel at children’s agnostic approach to all diversity issues.  These will be our future leaders and with our support, their views will help reshape the world for the better.

Who is your most memorable role model and why?
I have many and it is hard to pick one but aside from my mother, who struggled as a single parent. This year I have been inspired by a collection of women: Anita Corbin, the founder of the First Women campaign and the 100 women subjects of her First Women UK project, a photographic archive of 100 women who were the first in their field.  They range from the first woman CEO of Lloyd’s, to the first female underwater bomb disposal expert, to a mayor and politicians.  Their stories are an archive of role models for all.  Anita’s tenacity and foresight to create this archive over ten years to coincide with the centenary of women in the UK winning the right to vote, is as much of an inspiration as her subjects’ stories and the suffragettes themselves.  The archive will be exhibited from 19th July – 22nd August this summer at the Royal College of Art.