Aegon employees speak out on International Day Against Homophobia

Global, May 17, 2016

Today is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). For some, these terms, and the issues they reflect, are new. For others the issue of discrimination is very real.

Man with a rainbow flag in front of the ocean

That is not the case, however, for the Aegon employees who shared us their coming out stories.

"Although everybody thinks that homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals are accepted in the Netherlands, that is frequently far from the case on the work floor," says David Pollard, Director at Workplace Pride, a non-profit organization that advocates fair treatment for this particular target group.

While Aegon supports diversity among its workforce for many positive reasons, there's one reason that will appeal to many businesses in today's competitive markets: Employees who stay in the closet cost employers a great deal of money.

A person from the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual ,Transgender) community who is in the closet is around 30% less productive, according to figures from the Dutch Economic Affairs ministry and the government's Central Planning Bureau. If you translate that into lost productivity, it comes down to an amount of 1.8 billion euro of wasted payroll costs each year.

Unique skillset

David Pollard stresses that people in the LGBT community also have specific talents: "You become naturally hyper-sensitive to how people look at you. That's something you learn if you're in the closet." That is a talent and could, for instance, lead to a position in relationship management or in management itself.'

Aegon joined Workplace Pride in 2014. According to Marc van Weede, head of strategy and sustainability at Aegon, this was "a signal that we believe the emancipation of members of the LGBT community is an important issue, both within and outside the company." Marc says there is "still a lot to be done, especially outside the Netherlands." With this in mind, Aegon asked LGBTI employees in some of its 25 markets to share their stories.

Hear what our employees have to say about being proud to be 'out' at Aegon.

Matthew Van Maanen, Aegon Global Technology Client Security Administration

Interview with Matthew Van Maanen

Q: Did you have a workplace coming out, Matthew?

A: I came out about 15 years ago, when it wasn't quite as accepted. Surprisingly, coming out at work was easier than coming out to many of my friends and family. I've been extremely lucky to have had very supportive managers, coworkers, and friends during my entire career at Aegon.

Q: Have you encountered any negative responses in (any) workplace?

A: I really haven't. Sure, sometimes people might ask an uncomfortable question from time to time, but it's always in an effort to get to know me better. And the better you know someone, the more trust you build with them.

Q: Why is it important for you to be a member of Transamerica Proud – Aegon's LGBT community in the United States?

A: I think it's important for awareness and visibility. I try not to be an "in your face" person about my orientation, but it is a part of who I am. And while I'm very comfortable being out, there are still a lot of people who struggle finding their voice. And it's more than just a person's orientation, it could be a person's age, ability, gender, culture, or anything. I want to help create a workplace where everyone feels comfortable being exactly who they are.

Q: What can still be done for the LGBT inclusion within Aegon?

A: We've made a lot of progress in the last year, forming multiple Proud Employee Resource Groups around the world, which have given us great visibility. I think the best thing we can do is continue to engage our straight allies. Building those relationships is truly how our groups will have a great impact.


Interview with Ross Bradley

Q: Ross, did you have a workplace coming out?

A: I joined Aegon Asset Management 10 years ago and everyone knew I was gay so there wasn't really a coming out experience for me in the office, but I did visit the US office last year for the first time and over dinner one of my colleagues asked if I had a wife, I said yes and his name is Kenny, after a split second of awkwardness everyone laughed and that was it! I've always felt comfortable about my sexuality so never made it a secret and it's never been an issue in the workplace.

Q: Have you encountered any negative responses in (any) workplace?

A: Generally speaking no, everyone is very accepting.

Q: Why is it important to you to be a member of Aegon Proud – Aegon's global LGBT community?

A: For me it is about social inclusion, being part of the community allows us all to share and express common beliefs and issues. Additionally I see it as a support network in the company, for anyone experiencing personal difficulties or challenges about their sexuality and being able to offer that help and support.

Q: What can still be done for LGBT inclusion within Aegon?

A: If I'm honest I think Aegon globally is still behind the curve for LGBT inclusion and I'd love to see more done at Aegon in the UK. For example a number of major financial institutions have their own LGBT groups and sponsor and participate in events such as Pride. I'd love to see this happen in the UK. I also can't wait for the day that we have a LGBT member on the Aegon Management or Supervisory Board as a role model to us all - that is true inclusion from top to bottom.

Willem van den Berg, Senior Vice President Investor Relations at Aegon’s Head Office  

Interview with Willem van den Berg

Q: Did you have a workplace coming out?

A: Yes, I did! It was in my first week here back in 2004 when the HR director was chatting with colleagues at our department about relationships and suddenly turned to me and asked me whether I had a girlfriend. I told them I had a boyfriend and the response was something like 'oh, yeah, that's a possibility as well of course' and that was it.

Q: Have you encountered any negative responses in (any) workplace?

A: Fortunately, I have never experienced any negative reaction in the workplace to being gay – I wouldn't accept it and no one should.

Q: Why is it important to you to be a member of Aegon Proud – Aegon's global LGBT community?

A: If you're not at ease at work, how can you perform? By supporting Aegon Proud activities I hope to contribute to an atmosphere in which individuals feel comfortable to be who they are.

Q: What can still be done for the LGBT inclusion within Aegon?

A: I never cared much for drawing specific attention to being gay, but Mike Mansfield, head of our Aegon Proud community has convinced me that talking about LGBT inclusion at work can be important to others. This company appreciates individuals that display strong performance, whatever their background, personality or sexual orientation is. Support from colleagues for diversity at the workplace is what will ultimately make LGBT inclusion a non-issue in the future.

Nanda Suwargana Social Media Manager, Corporate Center, The Hague

Interview with Nanda Suwargana

Q: Nanda, did you have a workplace coming out?

A: My LinkedIn profile shows that I organize monthly pride drinks for lesbians. As this came up at my job interview, I had my coming out even before I was hired! It happened totally unplanned.

Q: Have you encountered any negative responses in (any) workplace?

A: In the beginning of my career I was single. I would answer the question 'Do you have a boyfriend?´ truthfully, but failed to mention that I was never interested in having one. I just had no idea how to bring it up and wasted my energy waiting for a good occasion that never came. Determined not to do this to myself again, in subsequent jobs I decided to be open from the start and experienced a huge relief. I found out that colleagues were supportive and professional.

Q: Why is it important for you to be a member of Aegon Proud?

A: Aegon Proud encourages all colleagues to be themselves at work. Knowing what it is to be in the closet at work, I am happy that by supporting Aegon Proud , I contribute to an environment where we celebrate our differences.

Q: What can still be done for LGBT inclusion within Aegon?

A: I've been delighted with the progress over the last few years. It has been tremendous. I am looking forward to seeing more colleagues joining Aegon Proud.


Written by: Aegon