Philip Anderson, Chief Operating Officer at Legal & General Retirement Institutional, features in the LGBT Great 2021 Global Top 100 Executive Allies for demonstrating strong LGBT+ allyship. He was also nominated by his colleagues for the LGBT Great Top 10 Ally Award for the support he has given the L&GBT+Allies network at Legal & General’s Hove office. Here, he outlines the importance of partnerships between businesses and representative organisations to drive inclusivity.
What is the current state of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the financial services sector?
There’s an enormous amount of stuff going on, and it’s exciting to read about some of the things that different companies and organisations are doing. What is really good is how people are focusing on D&I in slightly different ways and acknowledging that they are different things. D&I used to be used as an umbrella term, and it was all lumped in together. It’s refreshing to see people reflecting on what it means to create an inclusive workplace and attract a diverse workforce. If we can build on that, we can do so much more.
What does an inclusive workplace mean for you?
There are many phrases, such as bringing your whole self to work and being your true self, that can sound slightly a little overused, but they’re still relevant. Nevertheless, we think it is important to use them because they mean an awful lot to people, particularly people who haven’t had a workplace where they’ve been able to do that before. It was a key part of some of the Pride stories that we did at L&G this year around the importance of being able to express your sexual or gender identity at work because, for many people, work or school is the only place where they can do that. They can’t do it at home and don’t necessarily have that freedom with their friends. So, the workplace can create such an important lifeline for them.
We see a lot of inclusion virtue signalling from organisations when nothing is happening behind the scenes. What should they be doing?
The ‘should’ is fairly obvious, which is if you’re going to stand by something, it’s all year round and should be core to your strategy and purpose. If you can make it clear how it resonates with your strategy and purpose, that’s half the battle because people can connect the dots. I’ve heard a lot of criticism from certain groups around the idea that it’s Pride month for a month, and then the rest of the year is forgotten. It is something that I’m very conscious of with L&G and with our support for the firm’s LGBTQ+ networks. It is why we’ve partnered with Just Like Us, the anti-homophobic bullying charity, and we’re developing a year-long programme of activities with them.
We’ve also partnered locally with Brighton Pride for sponsorship activities that run throughout the year. Our networks across the business, which are growing in membership, focus, and energy, help keep us authentic because the members will remind us if we’ve gone off message. There are times when there’s a particular area of focus and celebration, which is great, as long as you’ve got a deeper story to tell throughout the rest of the year.
What can partnerships between businesses and representative organisations, such as LGBT Great, achieve?
Firstly, they bring in an outside perspective. An organisation like LGBT Great has a cross-section of members and representatives who can share ideas and things they’ve seen in other places. Also, it connects people and brings them together. Our LGBT network in Hove, for example, can connect with other networks through LGBT Great, again, partly to share learning but also because there’s a sense that our network doesn’t just want to keep inclusion and diversity within L&G. They want to create a larger network around those within financial services organisations more broadly. When another organisation helps you tell your story, it gives a certain amount of credibility and authenticity.
Could you explain your company’s new diversity strategy?
Our diversity and inclusion strategies, whilst often considered together, have a clear delineation between the two. So, we are absolutely focused on the two strands of building a diverse workforce that has true representation and true inclusivity. If we have a team where LGBTQ+ people are represented, female talent is represented, and ethnic diversity is all in place, that is incredibly important – but does that mean we’re done? No, because we continue to evolve. Creating an inclusive workplace is about equipping our managers and people to work and think creatively to help them get the best out of each other. That discourages the” oh, we’ve done it” type of thinking because every time a new person joins the business, we have to think about how to make them feel included, and we might need to adapt again.
We’re focused on nurturing and mentoring and really listening to people. We won’t always get it right. But being open to acknowledging when we get things wrong is important as well. Also, we can’t always understand the diversity of our workforce or the representation if we don’t have the richness of data on it. So we’re encouraging our people to share some of their details around their diversity so that we can see how we’re trending. For quite a complex business, we need to think about what true diversity and inclusion mean and how to navigate different challenges, whether regulatory, legal, or just around cultural changes.
What advice would you give to organisations that are fearful about getting D&I wrong?
Well, firstly, I think the longer you’re reluctant to move forward, the greater the likelihood is that you’re building up to a big apology. That lack of courage and conviction – and action – is what many people find harder to forgive in our customer groups. If you’re open and authentic with real values and genuine allyship, and all those elements of the D&I agenda, that resonates really well; then if you’re prepared to acknowledge when things haven’t quite gone the right way, or you didn’t do something that you said that you would do, that’s ok because humility is part of the D&I agenda as well. Nobody’s got all the answers. We can’t expect to get it right all the time. Perhaps the most unforgivable thing to do is not to try.
How would you describe LGBTQ+ allyship to a business leader?
I guess the one specific definition is around people who perhaps aren’t in a particular demographic demonstrating that they support and advocate for that demographic.? In the real world, it can mean lots of things. A real example that I’ve used is that I’m an openly gay man. I have a partner, and we’ve been together for 10 years. We featured in many of our internal and external communications of Pride stories. And one of the points I made is that when people who don’t identify as LGBTQ+ talk to me about my partner, mention his name and ask what we did at the weekend and where we’re going on holiday, it’s just part of the conversation. For me, that’s one of the strongest forms of allyship.
In a world where gender identity is increasingly nuanced and complex, people are nervous about how to talk to non-binary people or transgender people. In my experience, if you ask those people how they would like you to refer to them, demonstrating that you acknowledge and accept that part of somebody, it is a huge form of allyship. It’s one that I would argue pretty much everybody could do.
How did it feel when your colleagues nominated you for the LGBT Great Top 10 Ally Award?
Great, but it was kind of surprising because I didn’t feel that I’d done much. But following the internal stories about myself and my partner, Mark, a few people I had never spoken to in my organisation before told me how empowered they felt and how they loved working for a company where senior leaders were open about themselves. I am probably one of the more senior openly LGBTQ+ people in the business. I’ve also realised that it’s the small things that can often make a difference to people.
Leaders can feel as though they have to put up a facade and appear strong. How important is it for leaders to be their authentic selves in the workplace?
That’s an interesting point because leadership brings with it expectations. And there are lots of different elements that aren’t just about your personal identity. In a crisis, a team needs a leader to be strong, forthright and decisive – which I wouldn’t describe as a facade. But that is a part of your persona, your brand, and the shadow you cast that takes some time to develop and doesn’t always come naturally. But then, of course, we’re moving into a world, thank goodness, where we’re much more open about any mental health challenges and don’t feel like we have to put on a brave face.
How have you worked to get non-LGBTQ+ colleagues on board with allyship strategies?
I’ve included people with who I have really strong working relationships already. Ultimately, I have a dream whereby our whole LGBTQ allies network isn’t just for those employees, but for heterosexual employees who come along too because they feel real strength in it. When we do our Pride march, my goal is for the float to have a real mixture of employees on it.
How can businesses effectively communicate that they’re a safe place for LGBTQ+ staff?
I think it goes back to having a communication and engagement strategy all year round. It’s not about having a huge explosion in July or August with Pride-related stories and then going quiet for the rest of the year. Because of our sponsorship with Just Like Us and some of the other activities we’re doing, we have the opportunity to get regular updates on LGBTQ+ matters. We’re running an ambassador’s academy in partnership with Just Like Us in October and November, and then in December and January, we will talk about how successful it was. Social media plays a big part in that; it’s a great way to humanise leaders. I’ve been pleased that some new employees have fed back that the stories they’ve seen on social media have led them to want to work for us because they feel like it’s a place where they can be themselves. That’s amazing.
Is it difficult to keeping everyone up to date on your D&I strategies?
This is a challenge because there’s so much information in an organisation of our size. We use digital channels, we’ve got our internal hub and email communication, obviously, and we’re trying to get things into staff briefings. We’ve got a great internal comms team. We’re trying to avoid specifically talking about one issue of D&I and “communicating about this in isolation”. We want to weave those different messages in so that people can join the dots through them’. I’m not going to suggest we could run an internal comms masterclass on this topic for the whole financial services sector straight away, but we’re making great steps forward.
What other things is your firm doing to show support for social equality?
We contributed to the statue of Betty Campbell in Cardiff city centre, the first Black headteacher in Wales. I think that’s fantastic. Not only is it a very clear D&I link, but it’s part of a huge city centre regeneration project that we funded as well. It’s another great example of how we’re joining the dots in our strategy to be supporters of equality.