When Inga Beale became the first-ever female CEO of Lloyd’s, a 330-year-old London-based insurance market, in 2014, she also became one of the most powerful out leaders in the world.
“Any person that comes out as a role model in a senior position can only do good things because it encourages other people to start talking,” Beale told Quartz last fall. “It makes it safer to be out and drive overall inclusiveness, beyond sexuality.” Beale famously first came out as bisexual during a job interview in 2008 and has, since then, made diversity and inclusion a central tenet of her – and Lloyd’s – corporate message. She launched both internal and external diversity resource initiatives since ascending to the top job.
She has been married to Swiss jewelry-maker Philippe Pfeiffer since 2014, and told the Guardian a couple years later that she dislikes the fact that her marriage to a man makes her more welcome in the mainstream.
“It’s interesting, they feel awkward [when you’re in a same-sex relationship],” she said. “That’s why when I talk about this I say let’s use the words that people are uncomfortable using – lesbian, gay.”
Beale, 54, and her two siblings grew up in Berkshire County, in southern England. Her mother was Norwegian and her father, a Brit, taught languages, but Beale realized early on that, rather than languages, her passion was working with numbers. She held insurance jobs around the world, at the likes of Prudential, GE, and Zurich Insurance, before taking the top job at Lloyd’s.
In 25 words, describe how you came out:
I got tired of hiding my sexuality so came out in a job interview for a role on the group management board at Zurich Insurance – this was in 2007 and I was 44 years old.
How has coming out at work influenced your leadership approach and style?
Coming out gave me a lot of self-confidence. I no longer had to hide who I was and, without the constant anxiety that concealing my personal life brought, I became a much more engaged person. I now have the freedom to be my own personality. That authenticity and personal transparency has helped me to connect with the younger generation. They want different things from their workplace, and a culture of inclusiveness comes out on top. Being my authentic self has also given others around me the confidence to be themselves – and they are much more innovative and productive as a result.
Who are your role models?
- Christine Lagarde – she remains so balanced and yet never shies away from confronting inequality and inappropriate behaviour.
- Annette Sadolin. We were both working at GE Insurance Solutions in the 1990s and she was almost unique in terms of her seniority in the (re)insurance world as a woman. She always had a keen eye on developing people and helped me build confidence in myself to take on more and more senior level jobs.
If you could have any job other than the one you have now, it would be:
Leading a pharmaceutical company – I’ve always wanted to know what makes people running these giants be passionate about drugs. As someone who rarely uses medicine of any sort, it’s a slightly alien world to me.
The most important thing I have learned from a boss is:
The power of being authentic – one of the defining moments in my life came when I was working for a woman in Australia at the BBC. She said what she thought, wore what she wanted, and, importantly, was respected for doing an excellent job. She inspired me to stop trying to be anyone other than myself and realise my value.
The most important thing I have learned from an employee is:
Many years ago when I had my first line manager role I used to treat my team in the same way I wanted to be treated. I realised that people want to be treated as they want to be treated – don’t put everyone in the same box and as a leader, make sure you understand what makes individuals tick.
If I could tell someone who is graduating from college this year one thing I’ve learned, it would be:
Believe in who you are and what you bring as an individual – it will be one of your most powerful tools as you progress in your career.
A time a sponsor helped me take my next step:
Within a year of joining GE I was offered a promotion, but I said no because I didn’t think I was up to the job. The next time my boss’s boss was in London she had a chat with me. She told me that GE believed in my ability and that I should too.
I listened to what she said, had a think about why I lacked confidence and did a course called “Assertiveness for Women”. Would they run such a thing today?! Anyway I learnt a lot and when I went back to the office I asked for the job and I got it.
The best interview question I have ever heard is:
For my first big break in my career I was asked by the hiring manager what my manager would miss about me. It got me thinking differently about what I really brought to others and how I contributed within a team.
My most important Ally is:
I have a number of them in the insurance world –too many to mention. There’s a huge feeling of support that I think they must number thousands.
This person is my LGBT+ hero, because:
They want to be part of a better, fairer and inclusive world where we no longer have to be badged with unhelpful labels.
My first job was:
As a young teenager making lanyards for the army cadet force as my father used to run this within the school he taught at.
The most tantalizing leadership opportunity I see in the world right now is:
My own role – I get to lead the world’s specialist insurance market that each and every day enables human progress and provides critical support for communities, cities and countries in times of disaster.
Other than that – I can think of the most unenticing leadership opportunity – and that is around leading the UK through its exit from the EU.
My motto is:
Use every opportunity that comes along to grow, and take those opportunities that seem the most scary of all – these are the best for learning and developing.
The next big thing for the global LGBT+ community is:
See an increasing number of LGBT+ talent rise to leadership positions for global brands and hold roles in the top political offices around the world.
The next big step for me in my career could be:
I haven’t really thought too much about my next step – I’ve always been so focused on delivering in the role I am in. Right now, it is about ensuring Lloyd’s is fit for the future by modernising the way we do business, and by attracting a diverse, digitally fluent stream of talent.
If you were planning a dinner party and could invite any five people from history, who
would they be, and why?
- Nelson Mandela: to get a little insight into how someone can endure what he did and then unify the rainbow nation. He was an amazing man.
- Emmeline Pankhurst: She was an unstoppable force. By leading the suffragette movement she was crucial in helping British women win the right to vote. Next year we celebrate the centenary of that important milestone for women and society.
- Alan Turing: He invented modern computing, and played a crucial part in the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War 2. He also endured horrendous suffering as a victim of mid-20th century attitudes to homosexuality. I would like him to experience a society where attitudes to the LGBT+ community have completely changed and to hear the apology openly voiced in the UK to him and others who were treated badly.
- Amelia Earhart: As the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, she is incredibly inspiring! She was also an early supporter of the US Equal Rights Amendment.
- Marie Curie – her pioneering research of radioactivity made a huge contribution to the fight against cancer. The fact that she persevered, against the discrimination against women that existed at that time, is remarkable.
What would be the opening song in a movie about your life, and why?
[Nothing] “Sweet about me” by Gabriella Cilmi:
“So tell you something that I’ve found
That the world’s a better place when it’s upside down”
The six things I could never live without are:
- My smart watch
- English Breakfast Tea
- My iPad
My favourite vacation destination is:
Anywhere I haven’t yet visited.
The three books I would take to a deserted island are:
- My diary – a reminder of where I came from
- The Last of the Mohicans – the first “grown-up” book I was given as a child that I only read in my 20’s and then I was gripped
- Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang – true inspiration to give you the strength to take on anything