In terms of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans) friendly employers perhaps Insurance isn’t the first industry that comes to mind. However, in recent years the insurance sector has been one of the front-runners in ensuring their workplace is open, accepting and encouraging to LGBT people.
I had little-to-no knowledge of the insurance sector beyond thinking it sounded a bit dry but through happenstance was invited along to a LGBT Networking dinner at The Standard Club (a very swanky office space opposite the Royal Courts of Justice).
A number of companies within the insurance sector have been awarded positions within the Stone Wall Top 100 Employers
The dinner was attended by some of the big names of the sector, all of whom fell under the LGBT rubric and who were striving within their work to make the sector a more inclusive place. People such as Angela Darlington, chief risk officer for Aviva and a role model for LGBT and women in leadership; and Steve Wardlaw, a renowned business lawyer and prominent gay rights campaigner who co-founded the LGBT inclusive insurance company Emerald Life (more impressively, a silver medal winning Latin-American ballroom dancer in the 1998 gay games).
The room in which the dinner was held was expansive, featured a huge table that looked like it’d come straight out of a 9-to-5/Big Business-esque 80’s film; three old-fashioned portraits hung on the wall, each of an affluent-looking, upper-class, old, white ‘gentleman’. Not exactly the diverse image they were keen to cultivate in recent years but it did highlight why such diversity and inclusion initiatives were so critically important in challenging historic practices.
If you’ve yet to see Big Business (1988) or 9-to-5 (1980) then you’re missing out!
Any intimidation I felt from the setting was quickly offset by free-flowing wine (poured by a butler!) and the warm demeanour of the organisers and attendees. Together with myself there were four other students in attendance, each of us from a different university, studying a different subject and bringing different experiences to the table.
Before dinner, we were seated together before a crowd of eager-looking business people and asked a range of questions: had we ever considered a career in insurance? Why did we think the technology industry gave the impression of being more diverse than others? What qualities did we look for in an employer?
I thought it best to be honest as I had very little knowledge of the insurance – I’d never been able to afford it frankly. My comments solicited a fair few laughs but actually it seemed that my opinions resonated with the group. Sharing my thoughts was an enjoyable experience (usually, I run my mouth off for free but this time I’d gotten a free dinner out of it!).
After the questions we were seated for dinner and had the opportunity to chat informally with the various people around the table. It was enlightening to hear about the different career paths taken, and how being a member of the LGBT community had impacted their professional trajectories.
Over dinner I was lucky enough to chat briefly with Jan Gooding, who discusses in her role as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of Aviva and as the Chair of Stonewall, the difference between diversity and inclusivity:
“Diversity doesn’t mean anything without inclusivity. People need to be empowered to bring their true selves to work or any initiative is just paying lip-service.”
This quote addresses what I think is the strength of events such as this one. LGBT networking in this manner empowers young people to have a say in how best to attract them on their own terms. Whilst focus groups, surveys and opinion polls can be powerful tools, bypassing them in this way and creating a direct line of communication between the current heads of industry and the future leaders of tomorrow empowers young LGBT people to talk about what truly matters to them.
Inclusivity is only created, and cultivated, when you empower people to speak for themselves, from their specific standpoint, and allow them to assert what they need to feel included and accepted. Networking events like this ensure that those at the top are able to connect with those at the very beginnings of their career and utilise their input to change systems and structures in order to attract and nurture the best talent.
Additionally, it was particularly potent for myself and the other students to be able to see ourselves amongst people who are at the top of their field. LGBT young people struggle from a lack of positive role models, especially within the top tiers of professional environments.
Attracting and retaining the best talent, LGBT, or otherwise is a difficult task in the increasingly shifting socioeconomic climate but it is affirming that Insurance as a sector has such a strong commitment to ensuring that identity isn’t a barrier to success.
The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce are manifold:
Concealing sexual orientation at work reduces productivity by up to 30%. People who have ‘come out’ in supportive workplaces are more creative, loyal and productive – Stonewall
Organisations that rate highly in both diversity and inclusion are 70% more likely to have success in new markets and 45% more likely to improve their market share – Centre for Talent & Innovation
A diverse and inclusive company is 45% more likely to see improved market share and 70% more likely to succeed in new markets – Corporate Leadership Council
Diverse workforces have 19% better employee retention, 42% greater team commitment, and 57% better team collaboration – Centre for Talent Innovation
James Hallett, Volunteering Advisor