It’s a “celebration, a remembrance, and something that gives you new energy every year!” says Angela Darlington, the openly gay CEO of Aviva UK Life as she talks about what Pride means to her.
Growing up in a working-class background in Manchester, being a CEO was far from Darlington’s mind. “If you’d have told the fifteen-year-old me that I could have been a CEO, I’d never have dreamed of it,” she says.
For someone who didn’t have any openly gay role models in her early career, she is certainly a role model to others having been on the FT OUTstanding list of the top 100 LGBT+ Executives for many years.
As a vocal proponent of LGBT + rights, she believes that the message of Pride is still relevant today as it was 50 years ago, because it’s “hugely important we never forget how easy it is to take away rights that we have earned.”
Coming out as a gay female in the office
While she came out in her 20s she acknowledges that: “in some ways you never do finish coming out. Every time that I refer to my wife is a small moment of coming out.”
Like many individuals she kept her sexuality private in the office. “I came out much later in life at work but it's been a joyous thing to have done!”
Darlington, who is approaching her 20th anniversary at the firm, was asked to be CEO of Aviva UK Life last year. When considering the role she thought “maybe I should put my money where my mouth is and try out what I had considered to be a blue job [referring to the role of CEO traditionally being held by men] and it's been great fun being the CEO for the last year!”
She recalls her first forays into the boardroom being a male dominated affair. But she cites a number of straight men as key allies who have “helped me to learn to be as good as I can possibly be.”
She doesn’t believe being a gay female has been a hindrance in the boardroom. She explains: “it was my acceptance of my own identity which held me back as much as board acceptance and once I crossed that line I've only seen positives from being out at work.”
The significance of allies and diverse teams
On the topic of the importance of inclusion and diversity in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, she says: “The gay community needs to be allies to our black community at the moment to help create change for our black colleagues, and also be more accepting in our own community”.
Darlington explains how as a CEO she’s “spent a lot of time thinking about how you can make good decisions” and it comes from diverse teams. Therefore “you can’t afford to miss a part of the community when you're thinking about diversity and adding value into your organisation.”
Although she sees progress in the industry, she thinks, “there is plenty more for us to do.”
Like the rest of us Angela has been working from home during the pandemic. She recognises that while many people may have struggled during this period the LGBT+ community “has a higher proportion of people who are at risk of mental health issues.” And those people will have had a much harder time during lockdown.
With Pride month in full swing the pandemic won’t stop celebrations at Aviva with webinars and virtual events planned. Darlington has already enjoyed a typically British socially distanced Pride picnic in the rain (of course)!
She concludes: “The world might not see us quite so much this year but I think we'll be doubling down next year for sure!”
This article was written by Daniel Yates, CFA, Executive Director, Corporate & Investment Bank at J.P. Morgan, on behalf of the Inclusion and Diversity Working Group.