Category: LGBT history, Covid Response, Pride 2021, testimonial, LGBT event, LGBT+ Network, blog, LGBT+, Aon, Pride Season, AON Pride, Staff Testimonial, Insuranace, article, COVID-19, LGBT employee
This Pride Month coincides with us gradually coming out of lockdown after more than a year. We spoke to Carol Carter and Josh Rowland from the UK Pride Alliance at Aon to learn about what this past year of unprecedented challenges has meant to the LGBT+ community.
Carol Carter has worked at Aon for 34 years. She is an Executive Assistant and an Ally of the UK Pride Alliance.
Carol Carter, Executive Assistant at Aon
Josh Rowland joined Aon through their apprenticeship scheme in 2012. He is currently a Governance & Analytics Manager within the UK Risk & Compliance Team and a member of the UK Pride Alliance.
Josh Rowland, Governance & Analytics Manager at Aon
Can you tell us more about your work outside your day-to-day role?
Carol: I am a Mental Health First Aider and Community Champion. The Mental Health First Aid training really changed my life because I built the skills to help people going through a tough time or a bereavement. Before receiving training, I didn’t know how to approach people, although people would come to me just to speak because I'm a good listener. Since I've been trained, I'm now able to deal with what colleagues share with me and can point them in the right direction for support.
I joined the Pride Alliance to understand and educate myself, and to engage in addressing sensitivity. It has helped me understand issues that I didn't know about and I made some wonderful friends. I support the Alliance as an ally with several events and projects.
Josh: I am a member of the LGBT+ community. When I started at Aon, I was at their office in Farnborough, which, at the time, felt as though it didn’t enjoy all the diversity that London had to offer. As far as I was aware, I was the only gay individual in the office at that time. I didn't know about the Pride Alliance until a few years into my career, which connected me to the wider organisation of 6000 colleagues. I then became aware of all the diversity Aon has to offer, even at the Farnborough office!
Back in 2019, I oversaw our preparations for the Pride Parade in London. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend because it took place on the same day as my wedding. But since then I started supporting other events, like our charity work through Opening Doors London.
I'm also a Mental Health First Aider. We've got a really good mental health first aid community. We've had exponential growth in the number of people looking for help with mental health during the pandemic. We make sure that they are well supported. We have a number of mental health support initiatives and one example is Doctor Care Anywhere, which is a virtual GP service with a mental health aspect to it.
How would you describe the challenges LGBT+ employees had to face due to the pandemic?
Carol: Some people might not know that their colleague belongs to the LGBT+ community because they never had the chance to come out or they prefer keeping their personal life private. However, being connected virtually for remote work during the pandemic decreased this privacy. For example, if somebody is on a WebEx and all of a sudden their partner comes onto the screen. A colleague might say, ‘Who's that?’ I knew a person for five years before I knew he belonged to the LGBT+ community because he kept his life private. Being able to see inside people’s homes has allowed us to know more about each other’s personal lives.
Josh: Looking at the wider community, I would draw parallels to my own life. Me and my partner had completely different upbringings, I came from a very supportive family. My parents were born in the 70s and being gay was never an issue. Whereas my partner, whose parents were born in the 50s in East London, had a different upbringing. At the age of 16, he was kicked out and as such we don't have a relationship with his family whatsoever. During the pandemic, it was a real internal struggle; he's never had a great relationship with his parents, but at the same time, they’re still family. If his parents get sick, what would we do? How do we support them?
I'd also say that looking at the LGBT community, we very much enjoy our safe spaces. Over the last years, we've built those kinds of social places where we can feel supported and we don't get challenged. Being locked down cut those opportunities of not being able to go to those places where we can be authentic without feeling fear of reprisal or retribution. Not being able to go into a safe space had a detrimental effect on people's well-being and mental health. Starting to see places open up again recently, it's just a huge weight being lifted. Whilst we've got the technology to support virtual events during Pride Month like online drag shows and quizzes, etc. It doesn't go the full breadth the physical environment does.
How does Aon support their LGBT+ employees?
Carol: There are over 120 individuals trained in Aon around the country as mental health first aiders. I provide support for all employees who are LGBT+ as well as friends, relatives, colleagues of LGBT+, or those who have questions about sexual orientation or gender identity issues. This fosters an atmosphere of inclusiveness and mutual respect by raising awareness and understanding of LGBT+ issues through providing social and business networking opportunities for members. We also advise on policy development.
Josh: Aon has improved recruitment, retention and career success for LGBT+ employees. This has enhanced Aon’s image as a pro-LGBT+ employer in the industry. In 2019, we launched a campaign called Me, Myself and I to encourage colleagues to declare their personal information within our HR system. We've always been able to look at people's age and gender. This was taking it one step further to include ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability.
Firms should be able to know about the composition of their employees to make sure that any initiatives they introduce are moving things in the right direction. We had the gender pay gap report that came out a few years ago, and we've been taking steps to increase our female base at those higher levels of Aon. The Me myself and I campaign has given us an indicator of what our base looks like at the moment. As a result, Aon introduced putting your preferred pronoun in your email signature block a few weeks ago.
How was your experience with remote working at Aon?
Carol: I've always been an office person so I thought I was going to find it very hard to cope with remote work, but the work-life balance has been fantastic! As I've got an elderly mum, this allowed me to look after her, as she lives next door to me. Aon would give you time off to look after people; they are a fabulous company like that.
Josh: We've got open and honest routes of conversation at Aon. When we've looked at reopening offices, two routes were introduced to decide who returns to the office. We've got the business-critical, which identifies individuals who need to be in an office, and we've also got the wellbeing needs, which goes through the HR channel to assess the risk perspective. There's a flexible approach.
What does Pride Month represent to you?
Carol: What Pride means to me is inclusiveness. That's my one word for Pride Month. It is being together to celebrate getting over everything we have been through in these exceptional times.
Josh: Pride Month is such an opportunity to bring authenticity to everything we do. Who I am at home is who I bring to the office, and Pride is just one of those reminders of the steps that individuals have taken before us so that we can enjoy the environment that we are in today.