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Pride in the market: Erik Johnson

Erik Johnson - Active Underwriter, MIC Global

What a difference 20 years makes, let alone 50 years from the UK’s first Pride

20 years ago in 2002 I graduated from university in Canada with a BComm (Finance, Risk Management & Insurance). Don’t get too excited, I am not one of those few insurance professionals in the London market who grew up longing to get into insurance! I came to the profession after suffering an injury that cut short my professional ballet dancing career, leading to a move back home with my parents and going to university. Back then, there was no same-sex marriage in Canada and in my home province of Alberta, same-sex rights were not common or secure.

When I graduated from business school, the careers office called me in to discuss if I could add any sporting pursuits to my CV – as it was full of dancing-related education, jobs, and volunteering – and they felt it lacked the suitable sports padding necessary. I stayed clear of that path following my elementary school career as a rather poor soccer player. I asked the careers advisor if it was the dancing that was the problem because people might (correctly) assume that I was gay. After turning a deep shade of red, she just advised that in her experience, people with non-traditional backgrounds often struggled to find work. I left that meeting and sent a letter to the Dean about my experience and expressed my feeling that if companies were known to discriminate in on-campus hiring, they should be banned. I guess that was the start of me being more directly involved in gay activism.

I persisted and I got the job I wanted. Even to this day, more often than not, I am probed about how I made the switch from ballet to insurance. It always sparks curiosity and pivots the interview into an interesting conversation. I view this as an asset. People remember me. I have only once knowingly had an offer revoked from a firm on my visa application when they noticed I put a man down in the female partner box.

Looking at society today, so much has changed. Same-sex marriage exists in the UK (where I now live) and Canada, corporate benefits plans provide benefits to same-sex couples, and adoption by same-sex couples has gained broad social acceptance. 

When I compare the environment for gay people coming into insurance in 2022 versus 2002 the landscape is remarkably different. Many companies have LGBTQ+ focused employee resource groups, insurance businesses participate in Pride parades, and even have internal Pride celebrations. You also can't miss the sea of rainbow logos on LinkedIn for most insurance firms during Pride month.

“What brings me immense pride is how Link, LGBTQ+ Insurance Network has grown to be a go-to source for companies, allies, and LGBTQ+ insurance professionals for policy advice, fellowship, and celebration. Link won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and now has Link entities in the UK, US, and Canada, with plans to establish more in the future. All of this is massive progress, for which gay people, allies, the industry, and society should be proud.”

However, there is still progress required. Being gay is illegal in nearly 70 countries and one can be sentenced to death for being gay in 10 countries. These are massive challenges and place gay insurance professionals in challenging situations given the global nature of London’s insurance market.

How do we overcome and influence governments and societies where homosexuality is illegal? I think it is important for businesses trading in these countries to support their local colleagues, by having a global position on LGBTQ+ rights while lobbying governments to change laws. Businesses using their voices to support LGBTQ+ in these countries that are by-predicament very vulnerable will drive local change.

What can we do to support our LGTBQ+ community?

For anyone interested in supporting the advancement of gay rights internationally, I encourage you to support Give Out. They are a charity that does on the ground work to foster legislative and social change toward LGBTQ+ inclusion in society while assisting vulnerable LGBTQ+ people to seek safety.

While progress has been made, there remain millions of LGBTQ+ people around the world at real risk of persecution. We can make a difference. We can change lives.

Pride started as a protest. Today we celebrate Pride but we also need to protest the glaring gaps in legal protections and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people that remain.

I am grateful for the significant progress of the past few decades, but remain just as steadfast as the man that stood in that career office 20 years ago, hungry for more change.

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About the author

Erik Johnson is an Active Underwriter at MIC Global and current International Ambassador for Link, the LGBTQ+ Insurance Network.

Erik Johnson - Active Underwriter, MIC Global

28 Jun 2022