Episode 8

Published on:

16th Jun 2022

Episode 8 - "The importance of intersectionality." - Pride Month Special

In this special 3-part series of The GRID Podcast, we celebrate Pride Month.

We are bringing together some of the LGBTQ+ community from within the reinsurance and insurance market, and asking them some insightful questions such as how companies can make themselves more inclusive to this community, whether HR boards should include a specific LGBTQ+ representative, and where they stand on the publicly publishing your pronouns debate. 

A huge thank you to all of our contributors for taking part in this series:

  • Erik Johnson, Incoming Active Underwriter at MIC Global 
  • David Anderson, Partner, Head of US Cyber at McGill and Partners 
  • Theresa Farrenson, Customer Experience and Integration Lead at Aon 
  • Adam Triggs, Chair of Pride and Allies at Lloyd's 

And thanks in particular to Inclusion at Lloyd’s and LINK, the LGBTQ+ insurance network for all their help and support in bringing this podcast special together. 


CT: Hello and welcome to the Global Reinsurance and Insurance Download, or Grid for short. The Grid is a podcast powered by Eames Partnership, in which some of the world’s top insurance and reinsurance executives discuss the secrets of their success.

This month, we’re celebrating Pride, by bringing together some of the LGBTQ+ community from within the reinsurance and insurance market, and asking them some insightful questions, such as how companies can make themselves more inclusive to this community, whether HR boards should include a specific LGBTQ+ representative, and where they stand on the publicly publishing your pronouns debate.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of our contributors for taking part in this series, and thanks in particular to Inclusion at Lloyd’s and LINK, the LGBTQ+ insurance network for all their help and support in bringing this podcast together.

In our last episode, we tackled the subject of what true inclusion looks like, but for this episode, I wanted to ask about some of the more challenging issues when it comes to LGBTQ+.

I’ve often heard complaints that employers are too quick to lump all members of the LGBTQ+ community together, as a homogenous group, and to assume that all of their wants and needs are the same.

I’m going to let Aon’s Customer Experience and integration lead Theresa Farrenson kick us off here, as I loved their poignant take on the lost learning opportunities from lumping everyone together, which then segues into some really important points about another topic I’m passionate about when it comes to D&I – the importance of intersectionality.

TF: We all want to be treated as an individual and recognized for the things that make us us and differentiate that from the person sitting next to us who might be doing a similar role. But what you bring is a different perspective and different views and a different backstory.

And with the LGBTQ+ community, it's probably a lot more obvious, if you know what I mean? That we're not all the same, but because perhaps a majority of us might look fairly similar, you might be forgiven for lumping us in one group. And if you do that, then you're not taking the opportunity to learn from us, the individuals, and to discover, not just the differences, but perhaps the similarities, unexpected similarities, that you can use to ground people and to pull them together.

So one of those similarities, for example, ... And it took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to realize this, but when attending a mental health networking event, I suddenly realized that people that have mental health difficulties come out. They hide. They have shame. There's a lot of the feelings that they have and then they share with their colleagues and there's a degree of uncertainty about, "Ooh, okay, how do we handle that? And how do we adapt? Or what do we need to do to support you?" And all of that journey is actually remarkably similar to the LGBT community and our coming out process.

And I don't think the person that I was speaking to at the time recognized it potentially as a coming out journey, but I was, "No, it so is." And with that recognition, it can bring the two communities together.

I remember feeling ... But when I first came across the concept of intersectionality, I thought it was about segmenting the diversity groups into ever smaller little chunks of us. And I thought, "Well, that can't be helpful." But what I've realized over time is, a little bit, but what you then do is use that improved understanding to bridge the gaps, to recognize shared experiences and to perhaps connect groups in new and interesting ways that nobody had really felt was relevant.

So I'll give you another example: I was chatting to somebody at a multicultural event and we were talking about being mixed race. She was mixed race, and we were just talking about her experience and what were the right terms, et cetera. And she rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, my God, in my community there are so many different terms. We're all battling over the different terms about what flavor or shade or your behavior versus your external look."

And I suddenly had this ... I was, "Wow. Talk to me about the LGBTQ community and the gender conversation right now, because we've got exactly the same confusions, terminology. Nobody's getting it. Everybody's got a different idea about the various concepts. There's no uniformity of language. As soon as you think you've landed on a term that everybody's good with, somebody comes up with another one."

And, again, we had that light bulb moment of there are some ... An unexpected connection between their experience and our experience. And, hopefully, that can be used to bridge some of those gaps that might not otherwise ... The, "Why is your experience relevant to me?" That person probably would never have thought the LGBTQ experience would've been relevant to them until we discovered that commonality.

CT: MIC Global active underwriter Erik Johnson was also very vocal about the need to recognise that the experiences of members of the LGBTQ+ community were all going to be completely different, and those wishing to be allies needed to be cognisant of that.

EJ: You can't lump all non-white people together, just like you can't lump all white people together, because there're differences within everybody and in every group. A lesbian is going to have a different experience than a gay man. A bisexual person on my experience sometimes feels like they were left out completely because lesbians are like, 'Well, you're on your way to being gay or to being a lesbian and gay guys might think you're being on your way to being a gay guy.' And they're saying, 'No, I'm actually bisexual.' Trans people, and that has its own difference when it comes to gender identity is different than sexual orientation. Trying to say, 'We've addressed our LGBTQ+ constituents.' do people even know what that means? Because they're all very, very different. They've all got very different sort of backgrounds, characteristics and challenges in society.

CT: Erik and I also talked about Theresa’s point that terminology and language in this community isn’t uniformly agreed, and was liable to change over time – We discussed the term “Queer”, which has gone through a huge change in how people understand and use it over the past 20 years. Not even a generation ago, it was predominantly used as a derisive, pejorative term, whereas today, it has been reclaimed by those for whom the other definitions under the Pride rainbow aren’t quite the right fit.

EJ: Well, it's interesting because I was on a panel last year and one of the lesbians on the panel said, 'I don't like the word queer, but I don't like it. I find that offensive.' I grew up in a time like, I'm 43, where actually you were called in the school playground when that wasn't in a nice way. Whereas, younger people today are embracing the word queer. It's different because if you were my dad, he would say, 'Can I say this or can I not say this because I'm hearing it in very used in very different ways?'

CT: McGill partner and US cyber head David Anderson took the opportunity to highlight that each community in what he rather charmingly terms the “alphabet soup” is on a different journey when it comes to acceptance by the wider community, and that this “otherness” can still manifest itself in some mundane, everyday ways for those people.

DA: It is, without a doubt, a reality that every member of the alphabet soup that is the LGBTQIA*+ community has a different experience. It's very important that people realize that fundamental differences exist, not in a negative way at all, but like healthcare needs, mental healthcare needs, oftentimes housing pressures and income inequality, just family life and what people's life looks from five to nine versus nine to five.

perience in life, and even in:

It frustrates me because oftentimes they're left behind in the progress that the rest of us have been lucky to achieve. But from an HR perspective, from a coworker perspective, I think it goes back to don't assume that you know what someone's going through, and don't make assumptions about what's what's going on with that person. If they're transgendered, or if they think they're transgendered and haven't come out, they are going through a very, very, very complex and difficult time just up here in their mind. And it's important that people understand that experiences are different, vastly different in so many different ways.

CT: Adam Triggs - Chair of Pride and Allies at Lloyd’s, and speaks honestly about how, as a white gay man, he’s probably got the easiest ride when compared with other members of the community.

AT: I think it's been helpful over the year to have the term LGBTQ plus, and obviously even that terminology has changed over the years. But I think the experiences of each of those letters is fundamentally completely different. And it's taken me a while probably to realize and appreciate that even myself. So firstly, I'll call out, I'm a gay man. And I would say that the G for gay probably has got the easiest ride of the whole community, particularly white gay men. We make up the majority of ERG network leads. We are more likely to be openly out to our colleagues. We're on your TV programs, in your magazines, living fabulous lives.

So I think it's a much easier situation. I think you can't compare that at the moment to the challenges of the trans community. So negative comments in the media, in the press, the fact that trans hate crimes and violence are on the up, that the government wouldn't outlaw conversion therapy for trans individuals, you've got waiting list going up on the NHS for gender reassignment support. So actually as a community, this is a community that needs much more support right now than, dare I say, white gay colleagues. So I think it's important to understand that and educate yourself on that because what it allows us to do then is think about where we target our efforts. So I know as a resource group, Pride and Allies, our objectives for the year are very much focused around supporting bi and trans issues.

So that's thinking about the education and the kind of events that we run on any year. Even for bi colleagues, again, completely different experience to then gay colleagues. We had a bi activist that came in and did an event and said, quite often the comments are if you're bi, you are just greedy. You can't make up your mind. You're indecisive. And that's kind of shocking to hear. And it's just goes to show that where then more education and role models and profile is needed to really kind of address that kind of stereotype in the workplace. So you're right there's real nuances in the LGBT community. And it's just thinking about how we address each of those issues and support them.

CT: As a reminder, this is in:

I also wanted to know what other misconceptions or myths well-meaning cis-gendered straight employers might be getting wrong, that we could use this podcast to highlight?

Here’s Theresa Farrenson again:

TF: “It's always amused me actually that people assume that lesbians and gay men will be best friends. And, well, when you actually stop to think about it, they've got very little in common. So why? I mean, obviously we have the shared experience of being othered and the fear and et cetera, et cetera. So there are things that clearly do ... Experiences that we do share.

And so one of the other things that I think is a common error is the expectation that your LGBTQ+ person has all the answers about their community. And it's almost ... And I know nobody thinks this for real, but we don't just get a memory chip inserted matrix style and we suddenly become the guru on all the nuances of all of the flavors of our rich communities that we can then easily be tapped into by the entire organization who's now curious about who you are and what you're about. And, "Oh, you can help us figure this out."

So I think, especially if somebody's going through the process of coming out, they may not know the answers to even the most simple questions, which is, "Well, how can we help you as an organization?" Probably it might be as simple as, "I need to feel safe and I need to know that you've got my back if anything bad happens, if there are bad comments or whatever. But right now, I'm still trying to deal with it myself and can I come back to you later on that?"

So I think there's sometimes with that over-enthusiasm when you finally discover you've got a trans person in your organization that you've been wanting one for ages, that you put so much limelight on them, that they aren't automatically a guru and will know everything. They'll have their opinions, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are the de facto opinions of all the communities.

MIC Global’s Erik Johnson hit on a different frustration: when well-meaning people go out of their way to avoid talking about the fact that he’s gay. The painful squirming around avoiding saying the word makes Erik feel uncomfortable, as he explains…

EJ: They're being so vague around their own personal lives that I'm thinking, I don't know what's going on here. I'm not really getting to know you because you're saying partner, you're using very gender neutral terms and I don't know that to me feels like I don't know much about you. It kind of reminds me of when I was younger in the workplace, in my 20s when I did that about, because I didn't want to let anyone know I had a boyfriend. I remember it was my dad who told me, he said, 'Erik, if you do that your whole life, if you always say partner, and you're seeing them or they, and you never mention their name even, people think you're hiding something and people are just going to think you're strange.'

I know, because he was really honest, because he goes, 'I've worked with a man who was in the closet his entire career working for me. He worked there 26 years. I knew he was gay, but I was not going to out him. He had to tell me.' He never did tell him. This man always went on holidays with his friend. But I've had straight people try to do that to me, to try to not make me uncomfortable. The fact that I might be gay and somehow I'm going to be excluded. Whereas I have no problem if someone said, 'What does your husband do?' Or even someone said to me, 'Erik, what does your wife do?' And I'd say, 'Oh no, my boyfriend does this.' Because I'm comfortable in myself.

CT: Another thing for employers to steer clear of is so-called rainbow washing, where for the month of Pride you stick rainbows over everything to signify your support, but then don’t follow it up with purposeful action.

AT: I ended up actually naming my research project "Over the Rainbow" and that wasn't intentioned at the start. And it wasn't kind of a sound of Wizard of Oz type analogy, but it was because one gay individual actually said, if I see another rainbow arch in my building at Pride month, I'm going to pop it myself. So it was certainly well-intentioned, but it comes back to what's the purpose of this stuff. You can't just put some rainbows on a wall and expect to have an inclusive environment. So people need to see and feel that actually what the organization's actually doing to support LGBT colleagues. So I think there'll always be a lot of kind of initiatives and well-intentioned things people can do, but it goes back to that question of asking your employees about what their actual experience is, because it might deviate from what you think it is and what you want it to be.

CT: To round off on more positive note, I asked our panellists for good examples of Pride celebration, ones that they found to be particularly impactful.

Here’s Adam again:

AT: So telling stories, giving profile to LGBT employees to kind of share their experience. Pride month, for example, we've run stories and communications educating people on what Pride month is and how it's important. We got one of our committee members last year to write a story about their experiences of being gay in the workplace and coming out on what Pride month means to them. It had the most interaction, the most likes, and the most comments of any internal news story last year on our channels. It was just so well received. Cause actually what it did was create a platform for someone to share their story. Someone that people enjoy working with, they all love, and it was just much more personal…

… if I think about some of the stuff we've done that's had particular impacts, so role models and how you use those. So Pride month, all the big kind of LGBT calendar events. Think about how you use role models, but actually some of the intersectional stuff is quite interesting as well. So we've just done some stuff for international family equality day. So thinking about the LGBT community and then thinking about families and parents, and actually the intersectional demands of both. And actually we run a great event, just kind of trying to demystify some of the kind of standard family setups that we think about, and actually trying to give some visibility to kind of more modern families, dare I say, it in terms of what that could look like…

…. The one we are kind of looking at the moment so about to launch an LGBT mentoring program across the Lloyds market. So this is really to try and support and develop the LGBT talent talent that we've got within the market at the moment. Give them access to senior mentors to really kind of help to give them the support they need to develop their careers. So something like that again, is going to have direct impact to individuals.

CT: Those of you in the London Market may remember seeing LINK’s design a t-shirt competition for Pride last year. For those that missed it, MIC Global’s Erik gives us a quick recap – and explains why he was pleased to find his initial scepticism was unfounded.

EJ: Probably the coolest thing that I've seen and I'm going to be honest. I was so skeptical when I saw this come across my desk last year. It was an industry wide thing. The LGBT Insurance Network had a pride t-shirt design contest. They got companies across the Lemon Insurance Market to pay a substantial fee. It was thousands of pounds each to enter a contest where they designed their own company branded inclusive pride t-shirt. I remember thinking, 'Well, I'm not sure if my company's going to get involved in that couple grand to design a t-shirt and it's because probably because I'm not very creative.' I kept thinking our shirt's going to be really boring. They raised over £20,000 for an LGBT charity and they probably had 10, 12 companies across the market design these t-shirts. In some cases that had the CEO of the company wearing their company design pride t-shirt and it was all over social media.

So I thought, okay, one, it's cool that they did it to raise money. Two, that so many firms in the market got involved. Three, it was just after in the UK, we started up opening up after COVID. They had a prize award giving party at a very nice private members club where they had a drag queen perform. I remember bringing my American boss to this. I said, 'You've got to come to this Link pride event. It's going to be fantastic.' I remember her saying, 'This is the coolest work event I've ever been to in my entire life' because it was just so different and it was so unapologetically queer. The support that we got from the industry, I think was just fantastic. My skepticism was completely proved wrong, but I think that was a really cool way of celebrating pride and involving companies evolving industry. It wasn't like companies outsourced to design to these t-shirts or it was genuinely designed by staff. I thought that was pretty cool

CT: McGill’s David Anderson had a couple of examples that sprung to mind – one relatively short-term but impactful event, and another which had a much longer-lasting effect…

DA: So there have been a couple of situations where I was like, this is a really creative way to celebrate LGBTQ history or culture. So my last employer did a pride month. This was during the pandemic, but I don't discredit at all. They did movie nights. So we watched a couple of movies related to history. Stonewall the movie was really good. Milk was really good. Not everyone joined, and that's fine. But to have the opportunity to say, "Hey, on this date, we're going to have a movie night together. And if you check the box, we'll send you a little margarita making kit and you can hang out with your coworkers on Zoom or Skype and watch that." I think that was a really creative way to keep the spirit of pride in play during the pandemic. With my current employer, with McGill and Partners, the coolest thing I've ever seen is that they sponsor two LGBT rugby leagues, the Kings Cross Steelers and the Vixens. And I've never seen that before, so I just think that's really, really cool. And I think that just sends a message to the work... Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. I don't know if you can do better than that.

so how about taking that to an extreme and not highlighting just one or two people’s stories, but lgenerating a whole library’s worth? Here’s Aon’s Theresa Farrenson with more.

“Actually our Polish colleagues did something really, really good last Pride season. They modeled an event based on the concept of Human Library. And if your listeners look that up, it's, literally, humanlibrary.org. And the concept is that the human subjects are books and other people become the readers of those books. But, essentially, this is done through the medium of conversation.

So we had members of the LGBTQ+ community in Aon, and we used the breakout capability of your WebExes and your Zooms and whatnot. And, basically it was probably ... We each had a room and groups of two or three people were sent to our rooms and we just talked, we just chatted with them about what was our experience of being us and sharing personal experience or personal reflections. And it gave the people that came into the room the safety to ask questions, to have those questions ... Not being ... They're just honest and open questions about, "I don't get this. Please explain." And for those of us that were being the books to respond as we saw fit.

And obviously there was an openhearted, open minds type interaction and it was exhausting and exhilarating all at once, but we also got just some amazing feedback from the people who were just able ... It was almost like speed dating. They probably did two or three back to back. And just having the opportunity to chat with people about their experience, or just to say, "I don't get this thing. Can you help me understand this thing? Why do you feel this way or whatever?" I think just cracked it open for some people in a way that they previously hadn't been able to have that one to one dialogue with somebody about their lives, because previously and perhaps ... Or they'd been at these diversity events, where even if they'd bothered to attend diversity events, but where they were talked at by a panel and didn't get to ask those questions and they wouldn't have felt comfortable asking questions in perhaps that open forum that you might have.

CT: That’s all we have time for in this episode. I hope you found it useful, and please don’t forget to look out for the final episode in this Pride series, where we ask whether having an LGBTQ+ representative on your HR board could aid improved inclusion, and explore whether everyone, regardless of their sexual preference, should be public with their pronouns.

Until then, please do forward this to any colleagues, friends or bosses you think would enjoy it, and thanks for listening.

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