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Elise Betts discusses being an LGBT+ employee at WTW

Elise Betts discusses being an LGBT+ employee at WTW

 April 30, 2022

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As part of its commitment to LGBT+ inclusion, WTW marked Lesbian Visibility Week by spotlighting employees such as Account Handler, Elise Betts.

Sharing her coming-out story with myGwork, the business community for LGBT+ professionals, Elise reminds others about the importance of knowing you're never alone in coming out.

Elise joined WTW as an apprentice

"I have been working full-time in the insurance industry since September 2018. I joined WTW as an apprentice straight after college and subsequently finished my apprenticeship with a distinction in June 2021. Within WTW, I work in the FINEX (Financial, Executive and Professional Risks) D&O team which specialises in Directors & Officers insurance of commercial entities. I have also been volunteering with WTW’s LGBT+ Committee as of October 2021," says Elise.

WTW LGBT employee

What are some challenges you’ve faced that most people don’t realise?

"As a queer woman, one of the challenges I most frequently face is the hyper-sexualisation of my identity. This is present through media portrayals of lesbian/bisexual relationships and day-to-day interactions with people; it can be incredibly frustrating particularly when people ask inappropriate questions about my romantic relationships. The fear that my sexuality wasn’t ‘appropriate’ to discuss at work was one of my main reasons for taking so long to come out in the workplace. Although straight colleagues can talk openly and inconsequentially about their partners, I felt me even mentioning a woman wouldn’t be appropriate in the workplace as assumptions may be made about me that could negatively affect my career. This isn’t the case; talking about a woman in the workplace is just as appropriate as when straight colleagues talk about their partners. Lesbian and bisexual identities themselves are valid and appropriate, and queer relationships should be discussed openly in the workplace to help foster an inclusive environment for all. It is only other people's responses that can be inappropriate. Negative responses shouldn’t taint our own convictions in our identities as lesbian/bisexual people," Elise adds.

What are some tips you'd give someone who wants to be a better ally?

"Educate yourself and be a safe space for LGBT+ people to come to! Although many queer people are happy to educate others on how to become better allies, not all are, and it is important to not have the expectation that just because someone is queer that they should tell you everything they know about the community, as many themselves are still learning," she explains.

"There are some great resources out there with many books and documentaries providing valuable insight into queer experiences; I think understanding these experiences is the key to being a good ally. Once you have that understanding and insight you can support queer people from a place of genuine empathy and comprehension. Some fantastic documentaries I would recommend that showcase these experiences are: A Secret Love – a documentary following a lesbian couple and their story of meeting in the 1940s and how they spent years hiding their relationship until finally coming out in 2009 when they were in their 80s. Disclosure – a documentary that explores Hollywood’s depictions of transgender people in media and includes first-hand accounts about the impact this has had on people in the community. Pose – although not a documentary, this series depicts New York’s underground ball scene in the 1980s and is based on the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. It shows the struggles and triumphs faced by LGBT+ individuals and has the largest cast of trans actors in TV history."

What advice would you give to a young lesbian or bisexual entering the professional world?

"Make the most of mentors and good relationships. Mentors and good colleague relationships can make coming out in a professional environment much easier. Since coming out, I have been met with support from close colleagues of mine which has helped my confidence massively. These contacts also help push you in your career progression and are invaluable later down the line," she adds.

"It’s also important to remember you’re never alone, being out in the workplace can sometimes make you feel alienated as it’s not always something commonly spoken about in a work environment. However, there are so many LGBT+ people and allies in professional spaces that you can call upon for support. I am also always available to talk if you feel that you don’t have that space readily available!"

Have you ever struggled to come out at work?

"It took me around a year to finally come out to any colleagues at work, even those I was closest with. To others within the industry such as underwriters and colleagues in other teams, it took much longer...I originally came out to my manager and another colleague at a social event and was met with nothing but support!" 

"As someone who has been out to family, friends, and peers in high school, coming out again in a professional environment felt much more daunting than all the times I had come out before combined. I think this came from a fear of being ostracised further as I already felt I had a lot to prove as a young female in a male-dominated industry and I didn’t want to lose career opportunities or build what I worried would be deemed a ‘negative reputation’. Reputation feels like a very important part of career development in my role. I was therefore worried that I wouldn’t be known for my work ethic and instead known only for my identity. Having also not seen others being out in the industry, I didn’t know what kind of reception this would receive," Elise explains.

"I am however now comfortable enough to come out to new people and colleagues simply by mentioning my partner by their correct pronouns instead of historically referring to them as he/him to avoid raising any suspicions. You never know how this might be received but having colleagues around you who know and are on your side makes this much easier and less daunting. This has made me much more relaxed in my day-to-day work as I don’t have to worry about unintentionally outing myself. I would recommend anyone in a safe working environment to come out as it is very freeing!"

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