“Although it’s easier than it used to be for people to come out as LGBTQ+ at work, it’s still hard.” Dame Inga Beale, NED and first female CEO at Lloyd’s of London

Dame Inga Beale was a keynote speaker at this year’s IOD Women’s Leadership conference and has had an extraordinary career including being the first female CEO of Lloyd’s of London. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she is passionate about creating inclusive and diverse workforces.

I wasn’t very career minded when I was younger. I saw work as a way to pay the bills so I could live in London, row at Chiswick and play rugby for Wasps. However, after ten years with a UK financial services company in the City, I moved to GE which was already recognising the benefits of supporting people from diverse backgrounds. As a woman, I was encouraged and promoted, and it was confidence-boosting. My career became my focus and I travelled the world in senior management roles.

My time at GE taught me to keep moving forward so when I was headhunted for my first CEO role in 2006, I was eager to step up and several similar roles followed. When Lloyd’s of London approached me in 2013, I wondered if they simply needed a woman on the shortlist but, after a series of interviews, I was offered the job.

Modernisation was a priority for Lloyd’s of London and some of this could be achieved by technology. However, I had underestimated the scale of the task and the homogeneous nature of the culture. I remember looking out across a big ‘Town Hall’ meeting and seeing this sea of white faces. There were so few women in senior roles and the terms gay and lesbian were only used in a derogatory way. Hiring a more diverse workforce became a priority.

Although it was tough to drive change at Lloyd’s of London, I can see that business is changing. Organisations are realising that being diverse and inclusive brings business benefits like greater creativity and problem-solving strengths, as well as a workforce which reflects your stakeholders. It’s good to see the IoD supporting and promoting this message.

I chose to come out as bisexual just prior to starting at Lloyd’s of London so I know how it feels to be different. I am glad I have been honest because it had begun to feel like I was lying to the people around me. However, there have been consequences, for example I know it’s impacted people’s decisions about inviting me and my partner to events and it has made me feel uncomfortable meeting politicians representing countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Although it’s easier than it used to be for people to come out as LGBTQ+ at work, it’s still hard. Research suggests that a third of people who have come out at university go back into the closet when they join the corporate world. Fear of negative career repercussions and wanting to avoid ‘banter’ and unfriendly remarks are the most common reasons cited.

My advice would be to find a group or network within your organisation which supports diversity and inclusion. Then find some straight allies who are prepared to be alongside you and speak up on your behalf. Perhaps most importantly, find somewhere to work where the culture, values and behaviours align with your own. If you have to pretend to be someone you aren’t for too long, it will poison you from inside.

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