Josh Brekenfeld, Oversight Manager, Lloyds of London, and Jemima Jefferson, Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) consultant and Mental Health First Aid National Trainer with Mental Health First Aid England, explore the question of LGBT and D&I progress from the perspective of one of the City’s oldest financial institutions, and how to accelerate the pace of change. On this podcast we take our first foray into the essential topic of mental health, offering practical advice for corporates to help employees.
Links & Resources from this Episode
Lloyds of London – Holding Up the Mirror
Mental Health First Aid England – Mental Health Awareness Week 2018
Financial Times – Half of trans employees in UK hide LGBT status at work
HR Magazine – Financial services has worst mental health
Jemima is an Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) consultant and Mental Health First Aid National Trainer with Mental Health First Aid England (www.mhfaengland.org).
She has worked in the corporate world for over 20 years, primarily in investment banking plus short assignments in government and consultancy.
Jemima’s work in I&D has included diversity strategy development and policy review through to programme implementation. She has been involved in the development of diversity initiatives relevant to all points in the employee life cycle.
She has delivered workshops that uncover the inside story on how unconscious bias can impact career development including providing participants with ideas for creating strategies to address the impact.
She is the founder of the Gay Women’s Network (www.gwn.org.uk) which she set up in 2008 in answer to the question “Where are all the women in the LGBT networks?” and is the only remaining committee member since the first meeting.
She is passionate about raising awareness around all areas of diversity with a focus on gender, sexual orientation and disability – she developed one of the first disability networks in investment banking raising awareness of the impact of mental illness in the workplace before it became accepted in the corporate world.
A graduate in Psychology, and trained in Counselling and Psychotherapy, she uses her knowledge and experience to support her work. She is a solution focussed creative thinker, used to stretching the boundaries of what others believe to be possible.
Several years ago she took up Mindfulness Meditation and is now on a mission to understand how the lessons of Mindfulness can improve the mental health of employees in the workplace troubled by stress, anxiety or depression.
You can follow Jemima on Twitter @JemimaJJ.
Josh Brekenfeld, Oversight Manger at Lloyd’s of London, is the chair of the Pride@Lloyd’s resource group a founding member of the U.S. Senate GLASS Caucus, the gay, lesbian and allies organisation for employees of the U.S. Senate. He has also served on the steering committee for the inaugural DiveIn Festival – the festival for diversity and inclusion for the insurance industry. Since its inception DiveIn has grown to become a global festival with events spanning 17 countries and 32 cities.
In his current role Josh leads the management of the business oversight relationship between Lloyd’s and ten companies operating in the Lloyd’s market with a cumulative annual gross written premium of over £2bn.
Prior to his time at Lloyd’s Josh served as the Deputy Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Rules Committee under Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Josh is also admitted to the New York State Bar, and holds a certification from the Chartered Insurance Institute.
You can follow Inclusion@Lloyds on Twitter @LloydsInclusion.
Series Two, Episode Eight Transcript
Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets, and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about diversity and inclusion in financial services.
In each episode we seek to shine a light on successful progress, call out areas requiring further focus, and offer practical ideas to help drive change. Today we welcome two leaders in their field to explore the question of LGBT progress, and our first foray into the essential topic of mental health.
Our first guest is Josh Brekenfeld, oversight manager at Lloyd’s of London. Josh has business oversight responsibility for the relationship between Lloyd’s and some of its most important companies operating in the Lloyd’s market. He was proud to be one of the founding members of US Senate’s Glass Caucus, the gay, lesbian, and allies organisation for employees of the US Senate, and served on the steering committee for the intralingual Dive In Festival, the festival for diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry that today boasts events in some 17 countries and 32 cities. Today Josh is the chair of the Pride at Lloyd’s Resource Group. Josh, thank you very much for joining us.
Our second guest is Jemima Jefferson, a diversity and inclusion consultant and a trainer with Mental Health First Aid England. Jemima has worked in the corporate world for more than 20 years, primarily in investment banking. Her assignments have led her into the fields of insurance, government, and consultancy. In 2008, Jemima set up the Gay Women’s Network to address the central question, “Where are all the women in the LGBT networks?” She also developed one of the first disability initiatives in investment banking, raising awareness of the impact of mental illness in the workplace. She helps organisations understand the importance of employee mental health in the corporate world. Jemima, thank you for joining us today.
As always, we start the show by inviting each guest to take about one minute to talk about what they’re up to, and then we open up for discussion. So, Jemima, let’s start with you. What are you up to?
Jemima: I am currently a national trainer for Mental Health First Aid England, which I absolutely love. I would encourage anyone to look up Mental Health First Aid England and look at what they do. So, I’m training trainers, as well as delivering their training programs, or some of their training programs.
Let me give you a two second introduction to Mental Health First Aid. It was started in Australia in 2001 by a wonderful lady called Betty Kitchener, who still oversees the programs delivered in over 25 countries around the world. It was set up in this country in 2007 by a branch of the NHS, I think. They train people like me to go into organisations, and to charities, and all over the place, and to individuals, to teach people about mental health, because we don’t learn about our own mental health.
Julia: And we will draw some of that out for sure…
Jemima: And, of course, I’m still on the committee of the Gay Women’s Network, which I set up when I was working for Credit Suisse, because there were very few women going to the LGBT network groups and we wanted to find out why. It grew legs and it took off, and we have 1300 or 1400 people on our mailing list, through word of mouth. I would invite any LGBT women out there who want to join, to join … just get on the mailing list and see what we’re up to, because there’s some great, fun things that go on. All volunteers. We don’t make money out of it – all voluntary.
Julia: Great, and, we’ll put the links to that on the website so that people can see that as well. Thanks Jemima.
Josh, how about you? What are you up to in the world of insurance?
Josh: Thank you. So, in the world of insurance, Lloyd’s Insurance Company, that is the company that oversees the Lloyd’s insurance marketplace, really plays two roles, the first of which is, what we’re doing as an individual company, getting our own house in order. So making sure that we have our resource groups up and running, our focus on LGBT, we also have one for gender, we also have one for workability, and we’re also setting one up for parents and families as well. So demonstrating best practice when it comes to setting up those groups. Then also having a look at our own policies and procedures, again, using advice that we’ve received from other industry experts, as well as other industries themselves.
Now, that’s just the corporation itself. But I think the real impact that Lloyd’s has is as an industry leader. Lloyd’s of London is instrumental in setting up the Inclusion @ Lloyd’s group, which is comprised of members from around the marketplace. And, again, keeping in mind that there’s about 100 companies operating in the market, this is really the diversity and inclusion steering group that acts as the fulcrum of change in the entire insurance industry. That has been something that we have taken great pride in setting up and participating in.
Julia: So, let’s get straight into that. We’re going to talk about the world of insurance, and it doesn’t necessarily have the most progressive of reputations. Clearly, there are initiatives in place. Are you seeing the world change, or is there still a resistance to that?
Josh: Yeah. As you mentioned in the bio, I have a background in US government. And, to me, coming from that sector, which I think the US, and the US government specifically, is very good on some D&I, or at least further advanced than insurance, it was a bit of a surprise to me coming into Lloyd’s.
I think that surprise was reflected in a report that we put out called, “Holding up the Mirror,” where we interviewed 40 HR leaders from around the marketplace and just asked them about their D&I policies, what they had in place, how they prioritised it. And, at that time, only 27.5% of people responded saying that they had an actual D&I policy in place; 80% of them said they had no steering group or working group that guided D&I policy within their company.
So, that’s a pretty strong number. But, I think those numbers in that report, which came out in 2016, is a baseline. To your point, there’s been a real boon of activity and we’re seeing more people get involved, we’re seeing more resource groups come up and starting. One of the things that are driving that change, certainly from our perspective, is leadership.
In that same report, we had 65% of respondents say that their senior leaders get the importance of D&I, and that is a very strong point. Certainly with Lloyd’s of London, we have our own champion, Dame Inga Beale, who, as the first woman CEO of a 327 year-old institution, has really been at the forefront of driving change. You see that leadership really taking ahold of D&I and wanting to press it forward.
I think the other reason why you’re seeing the insurance industry come alive to this is the industry itself is under pressure from external forces. There are modernisation techniques and technology that are driving products closer to the client, and insurance has never really had to be close to the client. So, as an industry now, we are realising that we need to look and feel and sound like our clients across the table if we’re going to weather the storm of modernisation and come out on top of it.
Julia: The whole field of InsurTech, we have FinTech, RegTech, InsurTech … is growing very fast.
Jemima, for your work across other sectors, and thinking about what Josh has just said about leadership, where do you see most corporate initiatives are focused, or need to focus?
Jemima: I think now I’m on the outside looking back in, I have a level of disappointment for what organisations are actually achieving. Although there are many organisations out there, many companies out there, I could name some – EY is one. It’s doing huge, fantastic work, not just around diversity generally, but around mental health, which is my passion.
However, the change isn’t happening. That change is not happening. The change is not happening fast enough. There are still very few ethnic minorities in senior positions, let alone women. The LGBT community can tend to do better, for all sorts of reasons. But it’s depressing that young gay and lesbian people coming out of university go into the big corporates and go straight back in the closet, having been very active in the community at university, because the corporate environment, very often, is not open, welcoming, and friendly. Or, it doesn’t feel like that when they get there.
So, the lived experience of individuals within organisations often doesn’t reflect the good work that is being done, very often very good work being done by senior managers. If I ruled the world, I would turn the way the world of work works around, so it works for everyone. It was set up by white people, by men who were in control of everything, including owning their wives who were at home and staying at home. And, the world of work works really well for straight white men because it was set up by them.
If you’re going to change it so that it works well for everybody else, you need to change how it works. Some organisations are starting to approach thinking about that, but it’s really hard to do that in isolation.
Julia: So, the big thing that comes out from what you were saying there, Jemima, and also building on what you were saying, Josh, about leadership, an expectation for change and industry dynamics coming around, is that the reality isn’t shifting. So if there were young execs coming in, and, as you say, particularly LGBT execs who are then going back into the closet, the big question that comes to my mind is how – how do we drive that change, and how do we accelerate the pace of change?
Josh: Yeah. I think the point is valid in the sense that a lot of companies see the easy, quick fix as the recruitment issue. Right? So, you do some unconscious bias training, you eliminate photos from CVs, you make the talent pool wider. You have the folks that fit the spectrum that you’re looking for coming into the workplace, then as soon as they get there, they’re greeted by a culture which doesn’t support the recruitment process they just went through. So the hard work is changing the culture of these corporations.
One of the ways that I’m seeing is successfully happen is by small, incremental chunks, where you’re constantly widening the tent to get people understanding that D&I is not a gay thing, it’s not a minorities thing, it is something that touches on each of us and how we can better bring our authentic selves to work.
Julia: And how do you do that? Is that about having further working groups? I don’t want to put words in your mouth…
Josh: I think the first rule book, certainly the one that I play off with is, there is no rule book and there is no roadmap. I think people come into the D&I space and think, “Somewhere there’s a golden tablet that tells me exactly how to do this perfectly, and if I just follow these steps, we’re going to be a-okay in 2.5 years.” That’s just not the case. The space is constantly evolving. Mental health is now coming into it, where it should have been the entire time. So people are learning and talking about what it means to be diverse, and what it means to be inclusive, on a much broader scale.
That’s how you do it. You’ve got this permafrost of middle managers, these folks that have worked in the organisation for 20, 30 years and say, “Well, none of this impacts me. None of this is me.” When, in fact, suicide rates among males are higher than they are for females. Once you start incorporating that into the conversation, lights start clicking.
Again, that doesn’t take a lot of money, and it doesn’t take a great deal of strategic planning, it takes broadening the tent and listening to what other people want to bring to the conversation and incorporating that. You can do that through your resource groups, you can do it through lunch and learns, you can do it through show and tell exercises. All of that slowly chips away and erodes this culture that young executives find when they come in to companies.
Julia: Jemima, you were nodding along to some of that, the mental health point, particularly. From your experience, do you have lots of practical ideas about how you can engage an organisation, to get through that permafrost layer, to get that middle management, male-predominant layer, thinking differently?
Jemima: Just before I answer that, I was smiling because you reminded me, Josh, that in 2004, when I got my first proper diversity manager job, us diversity managers in investment banking, many of whom are still there and still doing fantastic work, all thought we would do ourselves out of a job in five years. It’s so funny to look back now, from 2004 to now. I think the key is, all of those things, Josh, that you’ve been saying, are great. However, the people that come to all of those things are not the people you need to get to.
So, there has to be something that is institutionalised within the organisation and changes what’s acceptable and what isn’t acceptable, and changes how you do your review every time there are promotions, to see whether any groups are being disadvantaged by the process. Most organisations don’t do that.
I did a breakfast talk a couple of years ago for some HR professionals, and they were telling me they don’t get taught anything really about diversity by the CIPD. I think that’s changing, but many HR professionals are operational, and they’re there to protect the organisation. So what happens when someone raises an issue that they’re being treated unfairly, is there’s this huge unconscious bias towards supporting the reputation of the organisation, which squashes the individual. And, very often, they end up out of the organisation, when that’s not what was intended, and it then perpetuates the myth.
Many years ago I heard a lovely story, by a lady who’s no longer in the diversity community, about how someone in a high money-making area of one of the financial services companies was fired for their inappropriate behaviour. But, I haven’t heard anything since, and this was many years ago. Because they make so much money for an organisation, they’re too valuable to the organisation, they’re being allowed to get away with bad behaviour. Whereas if industries as a whole said, “We won’t accept that,” then those individuals would have to change their behaviour.
It means imposing things on people, really. You have to impose stuff on people. Maybe you have to impose training that people are uncomfortable going to and don’t like. Maybe you have to push things harder. Maybe you have to drive home policies and procedures that people are not comfortable with. Maybe you have to retrain your HR professionals. Until you get to the heart of what’s happening, and you measure everything at every stage in the employee life cycle, you don’t know what’s going wrong. Most organisations don’t do that.
Julia: There’s are three things that bubble up for me. One of them is that it has to have a business imperative if it’s going to get some attention, and there’s so much research out there that shows that you can outperform through diversity and inclusion. But that still doesn’t seem to be landing as a business imperative.
The second thing is about building it in, or to use that horrible expression, “baking it in”. Baking it into appraisal systems, and helping managers by saying, “We expect you, and we will measure you, and remunerate you on the basis upon which you have thought about the structure of your team, and how you hire, etc.”
Then the third thing, which really came out from what you were saying, Josh, as well, is around how do you make it personal? And, this is the intersection again with mental health, which is if you are talking to a mostly male environment that recognises that men don’t open up, and maybe that’s a really good starting point; never to play on anybody’s insecurities, but to drive change. But actually that there is a reality that men don’t open up. So is there some hope there in terms of getting people to think differently, with the bigger intention of going, “Okay. So, when I get that, I understand the value of D&I?”
Josh: No, I completely agree with that. You have the policies in place, and you can do the training, you can have the learning module, and you can have the hotline numbers. But if people don’t feel confident in calling it, or if people don’t feel assured that by calling it something will happen, you’re just back to where you started. The track may be laid, but the train is not leaving the station. I think that’s where the hearts and minds aspect comes in.
You can have the policies in place, and you can have the quotas in place as well, but if people don’t fundamentally feel that doing this is, number one, the right thing to do, not just the business imperative, but is the right thing to do, and a consequence will happen as a result of it, and the consequence will be positive, then you’re not going to get the traction that you need.
So, I agree. I absolutely agree that you need to have policies in place that say, “This type of behaviour is absolutely, without a doubt, zero tolerance around it. And, if you see it, call this number.” But people need to feel compelled to call the number and understand what the value of that is, both to the corporation and to the working environment of people around them.
Julia: Does that require, then, role models, good shining examples of good behaviour?
Josh: It requires role models, and it requires allies. To me, allies is the absolute, untapped resource in any organisation. I think allies have traditionally been in the LGBT sense, and I always think of it in a much broader sense. Allies can be used as champions for good mental health behaviour, they can be used to spot out any discriminatory behaviour against anything. I think empowering that group to speak up and be emboldened, and to recognise that what they have to say is important, is the number one success factor.
Julia: And Jemima, are you seeing more role models and allies coming through in the work of mental health for organisations as well? Or, are people are still very much head down, because it’s such a personal moment of vulnerability when you have to step up and say, “Actually, I struggle with depression,” or “I struggle with my environment.” I only use those two as small examples in the entire spectrum of mental health.
Jemima: Yes. Definitely. I think what I love about the Mental Health First Aid Training is it gives people the tools to understand what is meant by mental illness. We don’t learn what is meant by mental illness as we’re growing up.
Julia: Can you share some of that insight today?
Jemima: Well, from the Mental Health First Aid Training, and one of the things that I talk about, is how we learn about our physical bodies as we grow up. You fall over, you scrape your knee, you learn that you put some antiseptic on it and a plaster and it gets better. What do you learn about how to deal with a broken head, a broken mind? When you’re really, really miserable and you don’t want to get out of bed? Nobody tells you how to deal with that.
So the Mental Health First Aid Training educations people on what the signs or symptoms are, how to signpost people to professional help, how to talk to people about it, listen to people more than talk to people, how to listen to people who are in distress. Because we don’t talk about it, everyone’s nervous to talk about it.
There was a study by Mind a few years ago that showed that 8 out of 10 people, being signed off work with a mental health condition, would ask to put something different on their sick note. So it’s a hidden problem. There’s also a study that I read recently in Scientific American Mind, which talked about a longitudinal study of individuals in a town in, I think it was New Zealand, from birth until midlife. They went back every year, or every two years, and assessed the individuals as to whether they meant the criteria for a diagnosis of mental illness; over 80% of people did at one point.
Now, if over 80% of people are meeting the criteria to be diagnosed with a mental illness at one point up to the age of, whatever it was, 40, 45, that probably indicates that almost everybody will meet the criteria at some point in their life. And yet it’s something that is ignored, people are afraid of … I think originally your question there was about role models, and, yes, there are more role models coming forward. There are more senior people coming forward and going, “I have been dealing with depression all of my life, and now I’m going to talk about it.”
One of the lovely things that happened when I was working on this at Credit Suisse, there was a fantastic woman there who had been diagnosed with bipolar, which is where you have periods of depression followed by periods of mania. She was very good at noticing when she was going into the depressed phase, so she would take herself off to her psychiatrist and ask for additional help. She never noticed when she was going into the manic phase so she sat down with her team, and she educated them about the illness and the condition and asked them to tell her when she was going into the manic phase.
She came and talked to people at Credit Suisse about this, and brought her psychiatrist in to talk about it. It was a fabulous session. People who are prepared to talk about it like that really raise awareness, as well as people that people know like Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry, they’re really raising awareness of the impact of mental illness on everybody and also what we can do to look after our own mental health.
Julia: In the hard, cynical truth that is financial services, which is altruism is one thing, but actually it’s about business, and it’s about performance. To my mind, this all comes back to a really important role in creating high-performing teams and if you understand the make up and the structure. We’ve had all of these personality tests, and we’ve had the predominant behaviours tests, etc. This is part of the human fibre and the human nature of people who come around and work together in an organisation. Is the world beginning to see it a more like that, or is that too hard-headed business, given this is about mental health and it is about human beings?
Jemima: I think they are. Once people are educated, they understand that a mental illness is just like a physical illness. If someone has diabetes, you’re not going to fear for losing your job because you’re a diabetic. Whereas, if someone has been diagnosed with depression they fear losing their job because of the stigma associated with mental illness. And yet, depression could last a short time, it could last a long time, it may be recurrent, it may happen once and never happen again, in the same way as many other physical conditions. And yet, people don’t know that.
The vast majority of mental illness, people recover from, or, they live with, and they live very successful business lives. It doesn’t interfere with what they do in their work, which is really demonstrated by some senior people talking about their own mental illness that they’ve dealt with and not talked about for so many years. It shows that it’s perfectly possible to be affected by a mental illness and to continue to work normally and have a normal life. Just a shame that it’s only now that people are starting to feel comfortable talking about it.
Julia: And yet, some of the most impactful business leaders over the last few hundred years have been defined as being utterly brilliant, slightly for their madness. I’m really not being trite when I say that. It’s like the world looks at these people as brilliant, but when you begin to unpick that in terms of personality types and ways of looking at the world, actually, that’s an extension of how that reflects day-by-day, minute-by-minute, in how we live our lives in a corporate environment.
Josh: I think there’s some of that that’s actually somewhat damaging because if you’re a “normal person” going to work every day, you look at these leaders who are both manic and brilliant at the same time, and you think, “Well, that doesn’t apply to me.” But yet, if you have a line manager who says, “You know what? I need to take a day off. There’s been a lot of stress. We hit the deadline. I just need to take a day off.” To me, those are the individuals that I think should be role models. Having line managers just speak up and say, “Look. I’m taking the day off because I just need to have a day where I fold laundry and don’t do anything else.” That is what is going to impact people, because that is relatable.
You speak about 80% of people qualifying for some amount of mental illness. I mean, that speaks to volumes of people that have something that’s just the once in their life, or maybe it’s recurring, but finding the people who are dealing with it on a day-to-day basis in a way that’s relatable to me is a much more impactful way of doing it. I think we’re seeing line managers step up in that way. putting on the ‘Out of Office’ – “I’m, out of office for today”, and telling their staff what today means. To me, that’s where the impact is.
Julia: And the reason why.
So, that marks a perfect moment to turn to Cynthia and Robert who have been on the lookout for research to support today’s discussion.
Cynthia: A Financial Times article from earlier this year shared the findings from a survey carried out by the charity Stonewall. The results from the survey were worrying. Half of the trans employees surveyed were so afraid of discrimination at work that they concealed being LGBT.
Robert: And, alarmingly, one in eight have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers. The 870 trans or non-binary respondents in the survey reported a range of attitudes from their managers, including hostility and bullying that had led them to self-harm, having suicidal thoughts, or quitting their jobs.
Financial services has the highest percentage of absences due to mental health, according to a recent article in HR magazine. The research was carried out by Advisor Plus, with records of more than a quarter of a million employees. It shows that, since 2013, almost 34% of absence days in the financial services sector have been due to mental ill-health. This compares to 24% of absence days in the retail sector, and 22% in utilities.
Cynthia: It is important for businesses to create supportive cultures and policies around the area of mental health.
Julia: So, thank you Cynthia and Robert. As always, links to the references and research can be found on our website DiverCityPodcast.com. You can also sign up for early notifications of future episodes, and please do follow us on Twitter @DiverCityPod. You can find us BrightTalk and all good podcast channels, and if you’ve enjoyed the show, we’d really appreciate a rating. It all helps promote the episodes.
So one of the things I’ve been thinking about, Jemima you were saying that a lot of young execs go back into the closet when they come out. Then I think about my career journey and now, I run my own business and I’m more comfortable out, very late in life, if you like. But I spent a lot of my time, my career, thinking, “Please don’t ask me about my weekend. Please don’t ask me about anything personal,” and just keeping those barriers up.
It’s very easy to make sweeping assumptions about what being gay in the workplace feels like and is like today, and we’ve been saying that there’s been great progress. But I’m interested to explore what it really does mean to be gay today. Josh, I know you have some thoughts on that.
Josh: Yeah. On the outside, I agree with you, that there has been a lot of progress. Being out now in the workplace is easier than I think it has been. But, it’s still something that folks are dealing with every single day. And, I think one of the thoughts that crystallises in my head is, a lot of people when they think about coming out, they think about it as this once in a lifetime experience, where there’s bunting, and everyone knows, and everyone gets a free toaster, and it’s one and done.
But, the actuality is that in a workplace, and certainly if you’re client facing, of if you’re dealing with clients in different ways, there are hundreds of decisions you’re making every day about whether you, as an LGBT person, are coming out to the person that you’re currently interacting with. I think that is a really empowering notion for allies, as well, because a lot of folks that I speak to about this, from the allies, feel that, “Oh, you’re out and you’re gay and everyone knows it, and now it’s just sort-of protecting your right to be here.” When, in actuality, the purpose of an ally is to create that comfortable space where people feel comfortable in being out and making that assertion.
So, I think it’s still a challenge. I think it’s still a struggle. I’m an out gay man. I have a photo of my husband on my desk. I have clients, probably only half of them know that I’m out, and that’s not because they’ve done something or haven’t done something. That’s just where I perceive the safety to be.
Julia: And that’s often about the relationship you have with that individual. It’s very similar for me. I’ve got some clients that I’m very, very out with, and others that … just the conversation either hasn’t come up, or I’ve felt that, predominantly, it’s a business engagement more than a personal engagement, so I’ve erred on the side of keeping my private side away from it.
Jemima, from your perspective and from years in investment banking, is this your reality, is this your truth as well?
Jemima: Well, I only discovered I was gay when I was 35. I’d never taken on any of the negative messages as a result. So, I didn’t grow up feeling uncomfortable about myself. So, I just went straight into work and went, “Hey, guys! Guess what happened to me?” I thought it was hilarious, I actually thought it was really funny. I just approached it from the perspective that it would be okay, and everyone would be okay with me, because I’m the same person, I haven’t changed. I did go through, obviously, some psychological stuff around it because it’s a huge change to your life, as well as a huge change to my physical life, where I lived, and who I lived with, and what I did, and who my friends were. So I went through all of that for a few years.
But I just don’t even think about it now. I don’t even think about whether people know or not. I don’t think about who knows, who doesn’t know, but then, I’ve never been in a client facing role like you, Josh. So, I think I might feel a bit differently if I was. But either people know or they don’t know, and either they use the right pronouns or they don’t, and I correct them, or I don’t correct them if the opportunity isn’t there. I don’t really care, because, it’s me they’re interacting with.
Julia: So, what advice would you give some of these young execs coming into the corporate workplace, particularly in financial services, and if they haven’t got the confidence, or they haven’t got the tools, to then correct people, pronouns, etc. Any advice you’d give?
Jemima: They shouldn’t have to have the confidence. The environment should be welcoming for them. That’s the wrong way to think about it. The environment should be there, and if there are people walking around the organisation with all their rainbow lanyards, then they will feel comfortable. But, for a lot of organisations, that’s just not happening.
To follow on from that, LBWomen did some research in 2016, asking gay women at work how out they were, basically. I was really shocked, that just in 2016, 73% said they are not completely out in all aspects of work. Now being out at work, for me, doesn’t mean everybody in the whole organisation knows. It means you’re comfortable with yourself, and if somebody gets it wrong, then you’ll correct them. Or, you won’t. But, you’re comfortable with that. There isn’t an issue.
So, if 73% are not out at work … 73% of those women are not feeling comfortable to be who they truly are at work. I was really shocked with that.
Josh: And I absolutely agree with that number. I think that’s probably an accurate representation. Again, it comes back to the point that you made. It’s not necessarily the individual’s ability to stand up for themselves, it’s also about what does the corporate culture feel like for them as a place of comfort. I am not obsessive about making sure that every single person that works in my organisation that is gay is out. That’s not my role, and I don’t want to know, and I don’t want to have a list, necessarily, although I do want to know and track the percentage, because I think it’s important to monitor.
But you want to have a culture where people feel empowered to be themselves. And, if they chose to be out in the workplace, then they should have that as an option that comes without consequence, and also comes without regret or remorse. That is what we should be building towards. I think you are spot on with that.
Julia: Coming back to this whole point about bringing the best of people around, because, there is a commercial intention here, and it’s commercial intention that will ultimately drive change from the top and through the middle management layers who have to think very differently. And the power of allies and role models is incredibly important.
It’s been a fantastic discussion. I just want to thank you both, very much, for taking the time. Josh and Jemima, thank you.
Josh: It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Jemima: It’s been great. Thank you.
Kieron: This episode of DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya and Robert Pinto-Fernandes for their insights. You can find out more about the guests on this week’s show on our website, DiverCityPodcast.com. Whilst you’re there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates. To be sure of catching all our future podcasts, subscribe to our feed in iTunes or your favourite podcast app. If you’ve enjoyed this episode of DiverCity Podcast, remember to give us a rating our review in iTunes. It all helps promote the show to a wider audience. Finally, our Twitter handle is @DiverCityPod. Thanks for listening.