What is your role?
I started working in the insurance industry 12 years ago at a small brokerage in the Yorkshire Dales (three fulltime staff and two part-time). We were bought out by Smart & Cook in 2007, became Bluefin in 2009 and I was transferred following an office closure in 2010. I left my first role in 2012 after six years. After a brief stint back at a small local broker, and an even briefer stint in the City, I started working at Aon in Leeds in 2013. I co-founded Link Up North and moved to Arthur J Gallagher in 2015 and in 2017 I began working at Jelf.
What factors allow you to bring your full self to work?
a. How does your environment make you feel involved and included?
My colleagues, immediate line manager and senior management within the organisation are all incredibly supportive.
b. Do you think there is improvement needed? What are your ideas?
There’s always improvement needed. It was only 5 years ago that I worked in the City and witnessed blatant sexism, racism and just a smidge of homophobia. I’d come to London thinking it was the “be all-end all” but the environment at the time sent me packing (literally). I think things have changed. If we continue to educate and listen to the industry rather than preach to it, things can only improve.
What was your first motivation to be out at work and how has being out most positively influenced your experience?
I think there are various stages to being comfortably “out” at work, and you don’t just come out once. Working in my first job in a small business within a small local community, everyone knew. Moving to Leeds, I went back into my shell and I didn’t truly feel comfortable with my sexuality until 2015 when a visit from Aon Risk Solutions then CEO Jim Herbert made me realise that I was working for quite an inclusive organisation. I reached out to Jim following his visit, and he introduced me to Theresa Farrenson.
Being out has allowed me to really bring my whole self to work. Which in turn has really allowed my career to blossom. In the last five years I’ve gone from being a shy, nervous wreck to having one to one meetings with some of the biggest names in the industry - CEOs, board members and global consultants.
How has the business has been improved by LGBT+ people bringing the best of themselves to work?
It helps us attract and retain talent that we may not have been able to make a connection with previously. It helps our employees feel comfortable, happy. It proves to our supply chain that we’re committed to diversity and inclusion, it helps us win tenders that we might otherwise be out of the running for.
Do you have any advice for someone who isn't out at work yet?
Contact a role model. Everyone in this guide is here for a reason. There’s a good chance we’ll know someone personally within your organisation, someone we can connect you with, to help make things just that little bit easier. They might be able to act as a confidante, a mentor or even a friend.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to take on the world. If it feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall with no chance of smashing through it, find another way around. Network as much as possible, even if you find it uncomfortable – you never know who you’re going to meet and how you might be able to help each other in the future.
Describe the moment you realised you were a role model
There wasn’t really a moment for me. I have so many people in my life that I look up to in one way or another, it’s only natural that some other people are going to look up to me. It’s the way of the world. We all influence each other to some degree and I think that makes every single person I know a role model.
What do you do on a day to day basis to be a positive role model?
I encourage everyone to speak their mind. More often than not people associate me with diversity and at first that can make people feel a little uneasy, like I’m some sort of undercover HR spy. They think they’re going to get reported or put on some sort of “blacklist.”
The diversity and inclusion world moves at a rapid pace. It’s hard to keep up with for those of us that regularly operate in the space (I still make mistakes now!), so it’s no wonder that people worry about what they say.
So I make it very clear that as long as your heart’s in the right place it doesn’t matter if you sometimes get things wrong. And if people do get things wrong we can have a nice informal chat about it.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be a good role model?
Be yourself. Be authentic. Make yourself a visible and friendly face.
What are you doing outside of your organisation to be a good role model?
Outside of Jelf I’m the National Co-Chair of Link, LGBT Insurance Network, I sit on Marsh’s national Inclusion and Diversity Committee as well as Marsh’s Pride Committee.
I sit on the council of the Insurance Institute of Leeds as their Diversity Champion as well as sitting on their Education and Charities committees. I work with Creating Inclusive Cultures and sit on their Advisory Board as well as working with the Leeds LGBT+ Business Alliance.
I recently qualified as a mental health first aider and am about to embark upon a Leadership & Management accreditation with the Chartered Management Institute focusing on Leading Diversity & Inclusion and Managing Organisational Culture.
Who is your most memorable role model and why?
My mum. She was in a road traffic accident when I was 7 which left her with life changing injuries. She had to close her business and was in a wheelchair for 6 months. I watched her rebuild herself from the ground up (physically and mentally) including learning how to walk again and having to overcome a fear of roads/busy traffic. She has bipolar disorder, stress reactive psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder. All of this on top of raising two children and eventually juggling a newfound career (in insurance no less!).
How did you feel coming to your first Link event?
The first Link event I went to actually only became a Link event retroactively! In May 2015 I hosted the first Leeds LGBT Business Network event at Aon. It was after this event I was asked to join the Link steering committee and Link Up North was born.
I was quite terrified as speaking in front of large groups is not something I’m terribly comfortable with.
How has the Link network helped you?
The friendships and connections I’ve made through joining Link have literally changed my life, both professionally and personally. I have a built-in support network for almost any situation I can think of.
What do you think Link can do in the future to best serve the new generations?
Keep doing what we’re doing. Stay relevant. Expand.