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For those of us old enough to remember, much has changed over the past three decades in the “City”.
When I started working there in the 1980s it was all grey, dark and formal. The only real colour you saw on the walk from Bank station after your journey on the “drain” (now commonly called its official name — the Waterloo and City line) was on the multicoloured jackets worn by the Stock Exchange traders. The odd, boldly coloured tie eventually appeared and then, even more daring, pink shirts arrived for the men.
There were very few cafés (we call them coffee shops now) that you could sit in and where you could socialise, and certainly no clothes shops for women. Our attire was expected to be skirt suits only — at that time women were prohibited from wearing trousers at Lloyd’s of London. There was a butcher, a fishmonger and an early attempt at a mini-supermarket in Leadenhall Market so you could buy some provisions to cook for dinner, but basically life revolved around the office, the pub and some members’ clubs that as a woman you could enter if invited. But you were certainly not allowed to order or pay for a drink.
Sexism was present and somehow tolerated, and yet I did reach a point where I jacked it in and gave up on a career in insurance altogether. I returned after an impromptu trip around the world and now, more than 30 years later, I find myself as chief executive of Lloyd’s, the world’s largest specialist insurance market.
The City’s culture has been transformed; it is now a much more diverse, modern, vibrant hub filled with people of almost every conceivable background, birthplace and identity. It is a wonderful thing to have witnessed — though there is still some way to go.
My own journey has itself been one of transformation. It has been eight years since I came out as a lesbian at work. I could not hide a big part of life any longer. I had to be me — unapologetically. It is hard to put into words how powerful that experience was, because I had spent so much of my life hiding who I was. It felt a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I finally felt free . . . to be me.
When I started at Lloyd’s in early 2014, I was separating from my wife and marrying my husband. It was a challenging time. I went through the same emotions and difficulties as anyone experiencing a break up, coupled with the reality that I now had the ‘bisexual’ label. It made no difference that I was chief executive — except that it did.
I realised that I was being seen as a role model and could have a fundamentally positive effect on people and their engagement at work. We can all influence the way business talks — or does not talk — about diversity, in all its forms.
Many conversations about diversity and inclusion do not happen in the boardroom because people are embarrassed at using unfamiliar words or afraid of saying the wrong thing — yet this is the very place we need to be talking about it. The business case speaks for itself — diverse teams are more innovative and successful in going after new markets.
When I assumed my role at Lloyd’s I made a conscious decision to be authentic, to be honest, to be open and to challenge my peers and drive change when it comes to providing a modern and vibrant environment. It is not always easy — but driving any sort of change is tough.
I am passionate about diversity and inclusion because I know how it has affected me throughout my life. And it still does.
We all have the ability to promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion — and that is something I believe every leader has a responsibility to do.
It starts with having a dialogue until we are all comfortable and no longer have the fear of saying the wrong thing.
The writer is last year’s winner of our Leading LGBT executive award
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