(Dolly) Pardon me, You Look Like You Need Some Careers Advice

Dolly Parton is known for many things but is perhaps not the first person that comes to mind in terms of career advice. A Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, author, actress, producer, businesswoman and philanthropist as well as being something of a motivational speaker, Parton has a wealth of experience that she shares with her audiences through softly her spoken Southern witticisms.

Below are a collection of some of her most pertinent quotes and how they can help you along with your career journey!


“Storms make trees take deeper roots.”

Sometimes you have to weather the storm to build resilience. Job hunting in particular can feel like a thankless task. Dozens of applications sent out, painstakingly completed only to receive no reply. Yet that rejection can be a source of strength for the future. It will force you to re-evaluate and assess where your strengths lie you will be in a stronger position moving forward!


“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.”

All-in-all, we all spend a lot of time at work, which is why it’s important to do something that you feel passionate about. If your current trajectory isn’t making you happy then take steps to change it – look at small measurable ways you can alter your situation and start ‘paving’ another road.


“I thank God for my failures. Maybe not at the time but after some reflection. I never feel like a failure just because something I tried has failed.”

Failing at something can feel terrible but actually can be an incredibly positive and fruitful experience if you think about it in the right way. People rarely make the same mistake more than twice because failure compounds what works and what doesn’t in a given circumstance. Reframe failure as an opportunity to grow and develop yourself via reflecting on what went wrong and how it could be avoided. More than this however, don’t be afraid to fail!


“When I’ve got somethin’ to say, I’ll say it.”

Dolly’s never been one to mince her words, and there’s a lot to be said for speaking your frank and honest mind. If something doesn’t seem right to you, call it out; if something seems like it could be improved then don’t keep it to yourself!#


“We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.”

Being adaptable is another keystone of success! Being flexible in your approach to things reduces stress, increases productivity and often leads to personal and professional development opportunities. Sometimes something you think you’ll hate, or be bad at, turns out to be enjoyable or you discover plays to your strengths. Dolly’s career goes to show that being flexible in your approach to things can have positive results!


“It takes a lot of money to look this cheap!”

Arguably the most famous Dollyism, what’s worth taking from this is that you need to invest in yourself. You gotta sink time, effort and sometimes money into self-development in order to succeed. People rarely see the massive amount of substance that goes into success and instead focus on the goal – keep in mind all that goes into making a success of anything!


“Find out what you are. And do it on purpose.”

Only you really know what makes you happy, what you enjoy and what you excel at! Find out what you love to do, do it well and succeed! For most people it takes a long time to figure out exactly where their talents lie but take the time to do so – it can take weeks, months or years, and is a continuous process – and success will be yours!

If you’re feeling inspired, come by the Careers Zone in SL62, Paul Webley Wing to start discussing your next steps after SOAS – whatever they may be.  

James Hallett, Volunteering Advisor



Today’s the day YOU change the world


Is there a charity you feel massively passionate about? Today is your chance to make a difference to them and help change the world! Join 5 other teams from across SOAS who are currently smashing it and raising some world-changing cash. Click here to get inspired by their stories!

SOAS Careers is excited to run a ‘Change the World’ competition: where we encourage you to get creative with fundraising! Apply by 11:59pm TODAY to get involved.

Thanks to funding from Santander, this is your opportunity to get creative and raise some serious cash to change the world. You will be given a lump sum of £25 to get the ball rolling with your fundraising. Your task is simple: grow this as much as you can, any (legal) way you can! Get as creative as you like – the sky really is the limit!

All the money you raise (including the initial £25) will then be donated to your nominated charity. SOAS Careers will also match the amount you raise (up to a max of £500). The organisation just needs to have a registered charity number in order to be eligible. You can enter by yourself, in a group or as part of a Society.

You will need to document your fundraising and reflections on your successes and challenges as you go. This can be via blog posts, vlogging or any way you dream up – the more the original the better! Your efforts will then be celebrated at the Make a Difference Awards in February at SOAS. We’ll invite the charity of your choice along so that you can find exactly how your efforts are helping to change the world!

Interested? To enter just submit a proposal (max. 500 words) outlining:
> Which charity you wish to support and why
> Your grand plan for growing the initial £25 exponentially
> How you will capture and document your fundraising process.

To get involved, send over your proposal to careers@soas.ac.uk by 11:59pm on Weds 17 January. All the proposals will then be reviewed by a judging panel from SOAS. The lucky entrepreneurs will need to be available on Tues 23 January to collect the £25.

Alexis Fromageot

#MotivationMonday: Beating Blue Monday


Monday mornings never seem to be an easy ride, with that unshakeable feeling that the weekend is just one day too short. Supposedly, today is the toughest Monday’s of the year – get through today and you’re on a one-way ticket to smashing 2018!

To help ease the Monday-est of Mondays, we’ve lined up an awesome selection of events throughout this week to support you on your next steps after SOAS. Whether you’ve got no idea what the future looks like, or a set plan of exactly how you want it to be, there’s something for you.

Come and get involved – all our events take place in the Careers Seminar Room (SL62, Paul Webley Wing):

Tue 16 Jan, 3 – 4pm: Ambitious Futures: Graduate Programme for Leadership Developmenthttps://careers.soas.ac.uk/leap/event.html?id=171&service=Careers+Service

Wed 17 Jan, 12 – 2pm: Cross-Cultural Awareness & Your Careerhttps://careers.soas.ac.uk/leap/event.html?id=215&service=Careers+Service 

Thu 18 Jan, 11am – 12pm: Workabout Presentationhttps://careers.soas.ac.uk/leap/event.html?id=245&service=Careers+Service

Thu 18 Jan, 12 – 1pm: How to Write a Cover Letterhttps://careers.soas.ac.uk/leap/event.html?id=217&service=Careers+Service 

Alexis Fromageot

Insight From Your Fellow Student: Life as a graduate millennial in the charity sector

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Evelyn Snow, MSc Development Studies (grad 2017), talks through her journey from SOAS to making a difference in the charity sector, and her current role as Schools’ Programme Assistant Coordinator at education charity Wings of Hope. 


Evelyn and the Mayor of Barnet who came to visit a stall that a WOHAA team had at the Barnet Christmas Fayre, where they raised £328

When I applied for a Masters in Development Studies at SOAS at the beginning of 2016 I hadn’t really thought beyond the fact that it sounded like a great course, in an amazing environment filled with inspiring academics and interesting people. When I received my final degree confirmation in December 2017, I was in a very different place to where I had begun with that first application.

My course had a lot of variety in its students – from those who had recently finished undergraduate study, to those who had worked for several years already – so it did seem like some people had a very solid plan, and really knew where they were going in their careers. To tell the truth, having changed so much during my short time at SOAS made me really think hard about my next steps after finishing the Masters, and where I wanted to be in another year’s time. I still don’t have the answer, but I do feel like I am one step closer to working it out!

As anybody who has experienced SOAS knows, the critical stance taken by students and
academics towards the status quo means that finding a job afterwards can be somewhat
challenging – with my other Development Masters peers we often discussed where we would find the kinds of jobs which would balance our grand ideas of ‘the right kind of’ change with the practicalities of graduate life! I also knew I needed some hands-on experience, in order to tailor my patchwork CV to where I thought I was heading later on. Apart from some volunteering work, I didn’t really feel like I had much to offer the kinds of development arenas I was interested in.

When I came across the internship at the Wings of Hope advertised on the Careers network at SOAS, it sounded exactly the balance I was looking for; hands-on experience of charity work in a small team, where student fundraising efforts in the UK are rewarded, and the funds raised go to help educate children in India and Malawi. For that reason I didn’t hold out much hope of getting it, so when I was offered the internship I was delighted – and even more so when it later turned into a permanent position!

My job is hugely varied; from admin tasks to giving presentations, mentoring teams to marketing and organising events, I work with teachers, professionals, and students hoping to engage them all in our educational work. I have given a keynote speech at a careers networking event in a school, presented our work to a business owner who is interested in working together, and researched other similar charity programmes, in the same week as visiting schools to check on the progress of the student teams we’re working with!

A typical day can begin with an assembly at a school, presenting our social enterprise programme (the Wings of Hope Achievement Awards) to students aged 13-18, encouraging them to get involved, then whizzing back to the office to market the programme to more schools, and organise more presentations, followed by catching up on the paperwork of logging students’ details, and often finishes with mentoring sessions with teams who have started their fundraising projects, giving them support and ideas and encouraging them to be the best they can be.

I have been surprised by the variety within my role, and I think this is a huge advantage of working with a small organisation – because we are a team of 4-6 I get to see all sides of what we work on which is fantastic, and means I can be heavily involved in all these sides. This means a lot of juggling too, so there is constantly something else to do, and when I began I found it extremely challenging to keep up with all the different aspects of the programme at the same time, as it felt like having to do several people’s jobs at once. Now I’ve got more comfortable with this, I see it as a steep but impressive learning curve, and I think it would be very hard to go back to working on only one aspect of such a programme at one time.

Life in the charity sector however is full of compromises and stretched resources, something I do find challenging, as there is always so much at stake. My students keep me motivated however – I really get energised when I speak to them and see how passionate they themselves are about making a difference in their fundraising, and this keeps me motivated to continue trying to support them in this and encourage others to get involved at every level.

It has been a hectic few months since I started here in August, and I feel like I’ve learnt a lot already. I’m trying to take graduate life one step at a time, and I may not know where I’ll be in a year’s time, or five, but at least for the moment I feel like I’m managing to achieve some real-world change for students in the UK and elsewhere, and absorbing an enormous amount of experience at the same time.

When it comes to thinking about careers, it can be pretty scary and intimidating, but I think the important thing is to not to worry too much about having the perfect post-graduation plan, and instead to take every opportunity that comes your way. Go for what feels right at the time – who knows where it might lead!

Evelyn Snow

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Guest Blog: How to Prepare for an Online Video Interview

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk


One of the biggest challenges when you’re looking for a job, especially that first job, can be getting a conversation with a recruiter, which is why the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM is an excellent opportunity to get over that hurdle.

The fair has attracted some of the biggest names in business including semiconductor maker ARM, consulting giant Accenture, the Government Digital Service, the European Patent Office, tech company Capgemini, and specialist recruitment agency STEM WomenThe IET will also be on hand to talk about ongoing professional development and accreditation for engineers.

Make a good first impression

Making a good first impression is key to making the most of the fair, and we spoke to Dr Amanda Barnes, employability manager and cell biologist at the University of York, to get tips on preparing for the interview and also for how to navigate an online interview. (Watch the full interview with Amanda now!)

“The first thing I’d say is that although this is not a formal interview, this is your first opportunity to show yourself to that company and a way in,” she said. So you should dress formally, just as you would for an in-person interview, and make sure that you use formal, professional speech in your interview.

Key in making a really good first impression is doing your research on the companies you want to talk to, she said. Make sure that you know what products or services they offer, and what type of roles they have open that are suitable for you, such as graduate schemes or entry-level positions if you’re just leaving university, or mid-level roles if you’re early in your careers. If you’re returning to the workforce, find out if they offer specific returnships and see if they have public information about flexible or fractional (part-time) working.

Interviews are a two-way street

It’s also important to remember the interviews are a two-way street: They aren’t just about an employer getting to know you, they are also an important opportunity to find out whether they are a company you want to work for. Dr Barnes suggests that you should ask what kind of potential career paths would be available to you if you join the company, and that could include asking about future training and career development opportunities.

Another plus of the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair is that it gives “you an opportunity to find out how your values fit with that of the company”, Dr Barnes said. “What do you want your typical day to be like in your world of work? … What is the culture like at the company and will I fit in there?”

Think about what’s in view of your camera

The default interview format for the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair is video, so make sure that there isn’t anything in the background that might distract the interviewer. Most laptops have a way to test the camera, so do that before the day and move anything that’s distracting. if you’re living in a student house, make sure that your flatmates know about the interview and don’t interrupt you.

If you are using a laptop, make sure it is fully charged or plugged in. That might sound like a simple thing to remember, but if you’re nervous, you might forget.

Keep your energy up

In addition to keeping your devices charged up, be sure to keep your energy levels high during the conversation, and be prepared to drive the interview. Have a list of questions, just out of the view during the interview that you can refer to, she said, adding you can plaster sticky notes behind your screen to remind yourself to make key points, especially about your skills or key questions that you have.

As for the structure of the interview, it’s a good idea to think ahead, and plan a question to kick off the discussion based on some of the research that you’ve done. Then you can move on to specific job opportunities, before finding out about the company’s culture and the work environment.

Make sure to end your conversation on a positive note. Recap the main points that you’ve made during the interview, and thank the interviewers for their time. And don’t forget to find out about next steps such as how to follow up with the recruiter or next steps in the application process.

If you want to know more about the Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM on 1 February 2018, we’ve lots of information for candidates, plus a quick overview of the companies and job types on offer. Job hunters can sign up free: https://findingada.gointro.io/

The Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM 2018

#MondayMotivation: Welcome to 2018!


Happy new year from SOAS Careers! It might be massively clichéd, but January is as good a time as ever to take a look at where you’re at and where you want to be.

SOAS Careers is keen to make 2018 your best year yet, and to help you smash it we’re running Top Tip workshops every Tues and Thurs from 12 – 1pm in the Careers Seminar Room (SL62). Come along for tangible advice and support on different key aspects of your career journey – from CVs and applications, using social media and LinkedIn through to securing your dream internship.

We’re kicking off the term with these two awesome workshops, come and get involved…

Tue 9 Jan, 12 – 1pm, Careers Seminar Room (SL62): Top Tips for Career Planninghttps://careers.soas.ac.uk/leap/event.html?id=219&service=Careers+Service

Thu 11 Jan, 12 -1pm, Careers Seminar Room (SL62): Top Tips: How to get an Internshiphttps://careers.soas.ac.uk/leap/event.html?id=213&service=Careers+Service

Alexis Fromageot


Insight From Your Fellow Student: My Summer with the Civil Service

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Harmanjit Sidhu, BA History (grad 2017) and Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainee at SOAS for 2017/18, talks through her recent experience of the Civil Service’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme. 


I have to admit, I was quite apprehensive about sacrificing possibly my last ever summer holidays to complete the Civil Service’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme. On reflection, it was probably one of the most beneficial experiences of my life.

For seven weeks, I was based at the Ministry of Defence, working on the Covenant Grant Fund which helps to support ex-servicemen and women through funding local projects. Some of these were based on helping veterans find work after completing their service, whilst other projects focused on aiding veterans who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I was given the responsibility of producing a case study booklet, evaluating the success of some projects the Grant had funded in the past. I had to finally present this to a senior steering group of the fund, which was made up of both military generals and civil servants. It was quite possibly the most frightening experience of my life- but as soon as it was over I can’t remember feeling more proud of myself! The final case study booklet is now used within the department as a key piece of publicity, and is distributed as events to showcase the achievements of the Fund. Therefore, in some ways, I have left behind an enduring legacy.

The range of projects on offer for interns is huge. Following a successful application, you are allocated to a department and project. For most people this is pretty random, however, if there is a project which is aligned to interests you mentioned in your written application, or on the phone interview, you are assigned to it. I was also able to indicate my preference for the type of work I wanted to do, e.g. Communications over technical/ operational. Fellow interns were placed in departments like Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Cabinet Office, the National Crime Agency and so on. Their projects included updating travel advice on the FCO website based on new information, evaluating a project completed by the team in the past, or conducting interviews to gather feedback on a new software.

The project and the overall experience of working within the civil service has provided me with a whole range of new skills. In producing the case study booklet I had to communicate with a hugely varied range of people, from senior diplomatic figures, to army generals, to on the ground grass root activists. As well as this, I had to plan, write and design the content and layout of the booklet too. I was given additional responsibilities of reporting back after attending conferences, attending high level meetings (after signing an official secrets act- all very exciting!), as well as the day to day communications with current grant holders, and chasing end of year grant reports.

Interns were also given ample opportunities to network across other government departments. At the beginning you attend a huge opening ceremony, normally held at the FCO, and there are a number of other events during the summer where the entire cohort of interns gets together. You have the opportunity to meet assessment day coordinators, ask current fast streamers questions, and meet representatives of different government departments who are happy to offer advice and guidance. You are also given a ‘mentor’, normally a fast streamer who can help provide specific advice on the project you are completing, as well as helping you out with Fast Stream application questions. I received some great advice from my own mentor, and have kept in touch with him since I left the scheme.

Increasing diversity and improving representation is a huge objective at the moment, and rightly so. Time and time again, as interns were told about how vital the issue of representation is for the government. The SDIP scheme taught me how much variety there is on offer if you work for the government. If you’re somebody who believes passionately in using your career to create meaningful and lasting change, and you meet the criteria for applying, then challenge yourself to completing the SDIP this summer. It could change your life!

Harmanjit Sidhu

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

Insight From Your Fellow Student: Life in the Creative Industries

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Ifeanyi Awachie, MA Global
Creative & Cultural Industries (2016-17) offers an honest insight into her journey in the creative industries so far. 

africa salon instax 2016 - photo by www.yannickanton.com-218

Ifeanyi at AFRICA SALON 2016 at Yale

Hey! I’m Ifeanyi. I’m a Nigerian-American writer and arts curator. I did my Master’s in Global Creative and Cultural Industries at SOAS in the 2016-2017 academic year, and I’m currently working in the creative industries in London as well as on my own creative platform.

The thing about choosing a creative career path is – there is no path. You have to mould your education, jobs, and experiences into the creative life you want to live. Try doing that while being a working-class, black immigrant – it can be really hard to find examples of people with your experiences and perspective doing the work you want to do.

That said, my experience trying to find creative work and launch my own platform in London has been challenging, enlightening, but ultimately positive. A big part of the reason I came to SOAS was to develop my business, AFRICA SALON, a global events company curating contemporary arts festivals at the intersection of academia and the creative industries. I started the platform in the States and came to SOAS to study African arts and culture more deeply. I chose my course for its practicality – for one of our modules, students can do an internship in the creative industries for credit. I used that credit to work on my company. One of the projects I assigned myself was to host one of my festivals at SOAS. I curated an event called ourselves + others: african feminist re-CREATIONS at SOAS, which took place on November 25. We had a full house, the speakers and performers made our audience swoon, and so many people told me
that the space I created is needed in London. The festival was a kind of taste test for the
potential of my business, and the results were promising.

While planning the festival, I learned about the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, a work visa that allows international graduates to stay in London and start businesses. It sounded perfect for me – I want to launch AFRICA SALON in London, and of course, keep living in this fabulous, hectic city. After a two-round application process that included pitching my business to a SOAS Enterprise panel, I was endorsed for the visa.

mo(ve)ments - photo by www.yannickanton.com-0400

Ifeanyi and Kenyan creative duo 2ManySiblings

Though I would be starting a company, I needed a way to support myself. I’d practically been applying for creative jobs since the moment I got to London, but no one seemed to be biting. I learned that roles at the organisations I wanted to be part of were extremely competitive, and I started to get discouraged. Then one night, I was at a party, talking to a Nigerian guy about my interests, and he suggested that I get in touch with his former boss, the director of TAFETA, an African art gallery. I visited the gallery, and the director and I hit it off. I started spending more time there, going to exhibition openings, even proposing a collaboration between TAFETA and AFRICA SALON. Though that project didn’t pan out, the director eventually offered me a job. I was pumped. I was passionate about the talent of the artists the gallery represented and excited to work for an organisation where I felt represented as a Nigerian and an African arts enthusiast.

Like many creative jobs, the gallery role was a great fit, but wasn’t going to pay me a lot. As a young, broke creative, you need to find creative ways to make money; I am constantly doing research to do just that. That’s how I learned about the SOAS Santander Scheme. If, as SOAS student, you find a great position, Santander will put in a certain amount of funding that your employer then has to match to bring your pay up to living wage. With the Santander funding, the gallery was able to offer me a paid internship as Trainee Gallery Manager.

My position at the gallery was to be short-term, so I kept a lookout for jobs. One listing I found made me stop in my tracks. It sounded perfect for me. It more or less outlined the work I did through AFRICA SALON and at the gallery, and sounded like exactly the type of experience I’d like to have next. But I was sure I wasn’t going to get it. It was at a big arts institution, and I’d been burned by those all year. I put a lot of work into the cover letter, but I knew I needed to do something extra to make myself stand out. I scanned my mental list of people I knew in London and reached out to a friend that I thought might have a connection to the institution. She did. I met her contact for coffee. That conversation gave me a better sense of the organisation, and while the person I met had no power in the hiring process, I could tell I had made a positive impression on her, and I crossed my fingers that that would count for something.

I got the job. I now work as Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. It’s early days, but the role feels like one in which I can make valuable contributions, and the environment feels closely suited to my interests. Next year, I’ll be working full-time at the ICA while developing AFRICA SALON. It feels really good to look back on how things have come together, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to relax. I’m always looking for ways to improve my work, elevate my brand, and stay on top of my various projects and responsibilities. I hope my experience gives you some ideas, but remember – no one can really tell you how to be the creative you want to be. In my opinion, all we can do is seek out those personal connections, be scrappy and resourceful, and keep hustling.

Ifeanyi Awachie

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

#MondayMotivation: The SOAS Students Changing the World

December saw the launch of ‘Change the World’: where SOAS Careers encourages you to get creative with fundraising for a charity that means something to you! Thanks to funding from Santander, the idea is to find original ways to raise some serious cash to change the world.

SOAS students applied for a lump sum of £25 to get the ball rolling with their fundraising. The mission is straightforward: grow this as much as they can, in any (legal) way! All the money raised (including the initial £25) will then be donated to their nominated charity. SOAS Careers will also match the amount raised (up to a max of £500).

Want to get inspired this Monday? Here’s a run-down of how the students who’ve joined the campaign plan on raising some world-changing cash…


Nasra is fundraising for The Mix, a youth mental health charity which aims to promote the mental wellbeing of 13 – 25 year olds. She’s getting involved with bake sales, bucket collections and asking staff around SOAS to donate an hour’s worth of their salary to the cause!

Dilan & Nelam

Raising life-changing cash for Aids Orphan is Nelam and Dilan, who are organising a ‘Dare Day’. Keep an eye out for them as they’ll be asking you to donate every time they complete a challenge you set them! All the money raised will go to the grassroots charity, who provide support for those affected by Aids or HIV.


Rubab’s getting creative in raising funds for Action Aid UK, an international charity working with the poorest women and girls in the world. For Rubab the sky’s the limit, and she’s going to be running bake sales, film screenings, working with other societies, inviting speakers as well as bringing it all together in an awesome storytelling social media series.


Here’s Vanessa representing the SOAS East Africa Society, who are fundraising for The Disaster and Emergency Committee’s appeals for East Africa and Yemen. They’re encouraging people to donate an hour of their pay as part of their ‘One Hour to Fight the Famine’ social media campaign.


Nazihah, Shanjida and Tania are changing the world by raising cash for Maternal Aid Association – an organisation that helps mothers in Bangladesh by focusing on improving maternal health in resource-poor settings. They’re hosting a Bollywood movie night and selling South Asian snacks – giving everyone a taste of the region!

Everyone involved will be documenting their fundraising and reflections on successes and challenges as they go, so keep a look out for that! All their efforts will be celebrated at the Make a Difference Awards in February at SOAS. The charities involved will also be invited along so we can all find out exactly how the funds are helping to change the world…

Alexis Fromageot

Diversity v Inclusivity: Insurance and the LGBT community

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