Increasing diversity in the workplace is still a struggle, despite a recent poll showed that as many as 23% of Brits are not completely heterosexual. But one man is fighting to make companies in Britain more LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) friendly than anywhere else in the world.
In his own words, Simon Rodgers has
two jobs: his “day job,” and his “gay” job. On a normal day, he is an account manager on Aviva’s corporate events team, but for the rest of his time he chairs the Aviva Pride network .
Pride is an organisation within Aviva, the UK’s second-biggest insurer, aimed at promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues within the company.
Since Rodgers joined Aviva in 2007, his first job of any kind in the corporate world, he has helped spearhead a drive to make Aviva the most LGBT-friendly insurer in Britain, and one of the top companies overall for promoting LGBT issues.
Rodgers says that he never experienced any discrimination when he first entered the corporate world, but heard of friends at other companies struggling with their sexualities. He wanted to make sure that colleagues at Aviva didn’t have the same experience.
“I just wondered in the workplace… nothing was ever said to me, I felt no discrimination. I just wondered if there are areas where that does happen, because nobody’s perfect, and I could see colleagues working for different companies where they weren’t having the same experience,” Rodgers told Business Insider UK.
His drive to improve gay rights in the workplace first started at school, where he was bullied for his sexuality.
“When I’d been at school and I’d personally suffered discrimination and prejudice based on perceptions of my sexual orientation, rather than me actually knowing it myself and knowing that I was gay, I never found any support. There were no community groups or networks, or anything like that where I was living,” Rodgers said.
“I had a rubbish time at school. I hated it, and I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to get out of education as soon as possible. Coming into work and actually being ‘out’ in the workplace was phenomenal.”
“So when I got the opportunity to make sure that other people in the workplace could have that same experience, and could come out in the workplace, I wanted to be a part of that,” he added.
Rodgers has helped to create numerous initiatives to help push Aviva up the LGBT diversity rankings, and many have been about raising awareness.
By partnering Aviva with the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity for homeless LGBT youths, Rodgers was able to raise awareness of the challenges still facing LGBT people in the UK.
Initiatives put in place included having a week of activities designed to promote Pride across Aviva. The week included bake sales, a dress in purple (the chosen colour of many LGBT charities) day, and online auctions. “That created a buzz about what we were doing. It was absolutely fantastic to see that, and to see the support.”
The importance of LGBT rankings
There is no concrete way of determining how LGBT-friendly and inclusive companies are, Rodgers said, but ranking lists are a good starting point and are great for raising awareness, he says.
This belief is probably helped by Aviva’s strong performance in many of these lists. In this year’s Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, Aviva was the only insurer to crack the top 100, finishing a very strong 15th, up 76 places from 2014. It’s an achievement that Rodgers swells with pride when talking about.
Pinning down exactly what makes a workplace LGBT-inclusive is difficult, but in creating its rankings Stonewall looks at employee training, career development, and community engagement.
On top of this, they survey employees and ask them 17 specific questions about lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues. The questions included:
Are there visible lesbian, gay and bisexual role models in the organisation?
Are lesbian, gay and bisexual people comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation at work?
Are lesbian, gay and bisexual employees confident to report homophobic and biphobic incidents of bullying in the workplace?
In total, Stonewall says it got more than 50,000 responses to the questions, which were then tallied with the research done on business policies to create the ranking.
Awards and rankings like Stonewall’s, and the most powerful LGBT executives list by not-for-profit OUTstanding are a big way of helping to raise awareness of LGBT issues and inspiring a new generation of youngsters to be out and proud in the workplace, Rodgers said.
“Those lists are important, they give the opportunity to show the progress that is being made,” said Rodgers, who recently ranked 21st in OUTstanding’s Future LGBT Leaders list, a ranking for professionals under 35.”
Aviva did particularly well on OUTstanding’s Leading 100 LGBT Executives list, with two senior figures in the company featuring on the list: Jan Gooding, the company’s global brand director and Angela Darlington, the chief risk officer, one of the most crucial positions in any insurance company.
Fighting for diversity on all fronts
Rodgers might focus most of his attention on fighting for the rights of the LGBT community in the workplace, but he doesn’t stop there. Achieving total quality for women, and those from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds is also a passion for Rodgers. “There’s a lot of overlap,” he says.
In the past few years, there has been a major push from the government, employers, and campaigners to increase diversity of all kinds in the workplace.
Campaigns like the Davies Review, a major study into the number of women sitting on the boards and the Board Index from headhunters Spencer Stuart, help to highlight the lack of representation of women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT people in the most senior positions of British companies.
Rodgers agrees this is a big issue: “You have industries within London, financial services, banking and everything. Historically there has been a very macho culture there. I think some sections of the financial services industry can be labelled as very male, stale, and pale.” Petrochemicals and construction are two areas where the lack of diversity is stark, he says.
Statistics show that things are improving, albeit slowly. Twenty-six per cent of directors at FTSE 100 companies are now women, while black, Asian, and minority ethnic directors make up 5% of boards.
There are no official figures for the number of LGBT executives in the UK, but the appearance of female bosses at companies like BP, Burberry, and HSBC seems to anecdotally suggest that more LGBT people are taking up senior positions in British companies.
One Young World
Business Insider first got in touch with Rodgers through his work with One Young World , an organisation that aims to inspire young people to create a positive change around them. One Young World’s yearly summit was held in Bangkok last week, and since its inception the event has featured incredible speakers like former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Sir Richard Branson, and even former US President Bill Clinton.
Rodgers first spoke at the conference in Pittsburgh in 2012, when he got a huge reaction from the 1,300-strong crowd for appearing on stage wearing a T-shirt featuring Stonewall’s now famous “Some people are gay. Get over it” slogan. He describes the event as one of the most “nerve-wracking” of his life.
One Young World encourages young people to make a real change in their communities by starting businesses, championing causes, and standing for election. Rodgers did just that in 2011, before he got involved with Aviva pride, when he unsuccessfully stood as a councillor in his home town of York.
Working with the LGBT leaders of the future
Appearing at One Young World also helped Rodgers to raise the profile of Aviva’s LGBT networks and of the work he is doing to promote LGBT rights and issues in the workplace.
Shortly after the conference, he was interviewed by the Guardian, pushing his agenda to the hundreds of thousands of people who read the paper and its online material every day.
One Young World also prompted one of Rodgers’ former school teachers to get in touch with him and ask if he would speak at his old school. The talk prompted several pupils to come out as LGBT, Rodgers proudly recalled.
“The reach of One Young World meant that a secondary school teacher, in the north of England, in a small town, saw what we were doing in the US.”
The best way of ensuring that workplaces are diverse, friendly places for all, Rodgers said, is to educate kids from a young age. “We can role model our successes in the workplace to younger people, and show them that whilst there is still homophobia and transphobia in schools … it gets better.”
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