Coming Out Day: standing up for Diversity & Inclusion
To mark Coming Out Day, Aegon celebrated Diversity & Inclusion by publishing ‘Coming Out’ stories from LGBT colleagues and allies.
Originating in the US before becoming an international event, Coming Out Day celebrates people coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or as an ally.
Why is Aegon marking Coming Out Day? Alex Wynaendts, CEO Aegon, explains: "Workplaces can be hugely enriching places. Our company brings people together from many different backgrounds, countries and cultures. And nothing helps build respect, understanding and support for the LGBT community more than working alongside LGBT colleagues."
"Thank you to all those colleagues who have shared their stories for Coming Out Day. I am inspired by your words, and hope you and all colleagues are proud to work for a company that celebrates diversity in all of its forms."
Head of Investment Support (Europe)
Aegon Asset Management, Europe
"I joined Aegon Asset Management over 14 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 a few years back 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.
For me, Coming Out is about social inclusion, being part of the community allows us all to share and express common beliefs and issues. Additionally I see our Proud communities 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.
If I'm honest I think Aegon globally is still behind the curve for LGBT inclusion. I also can't wait for the day that we have an LGBT member on the Aegon Management or Supervisory Board as a role model to us all - that is true inclusion from top to bottom."
Aegon Global Technology
Aegon Group, The Netherlands
"It's been thirteen years since my first Coming Out. Everything had clicked the year before, when I went to see 'Ocean's Twelve' in the cinema and instead of pining over Brad Pitt and George Clooney like my friends did, I was deeply enamored with Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Ever since, there hasn't been a year where I didn't have to come out in one way or another. By now I often do in the most casual way possible. Referencing a girlfriend or starting a conversation along the lines of "I once dated this girl...".
Truly coming out, explaining it's not as black-and-white for me as "I like girls", is something I hardly ever do. That talk is reserved for the people close to me. Who you're into and what you feel like is a private matter, but being able to talk about your weekend and who you spent it with is incredibly valuable in building relationships. This goes for the work floor too. That's why I'm happy to work at a company where I never felt any judgment based on my orientation or gender expression."
Willem van den Berg
Head of Global Finance Transformation
"My coming out at Aegon 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.
Fortunately, I have never experienced any negative reaction in the workplace to being gay – I wouldn't accept it and no one should. After all, 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. Aegon appreciates individuals that display strong performance, whatever their background, personality or sexual orientation. Support from colleagues for diversity at the workplace is what will ultimately make LGBT inclusion a non-issue in the future."
Client Relationship Director
Workplace Investing Client Relations
"Whilst I was the chair of the LGBT Network at a previous employer, I was approached by a member of staff who wanted to speak in confidence about a personal issue. The person told me that while he was gay, he wasn't out to anyone and moreover, I was the first person he had ever told.
The employee just wanted to speak to someone about this, and through the high level of visibility the firm had ensured for its commitment to diversity and inclusion, this employee felt comfortable in making that first step, comforted by the knowledge that this was something his employer took seriously.
Over a period of a few months and several meetings, this employee became more confident in his own identity, such that he was able to come out to his boss and feel more relaxed in the workplace. Whilst the employee still didn't feel able to come out to his family for cultural reasons, the actions of the firm and the LGBT network together enabled him to feel more at home in his job, develop personally and prove a much more relaxed worker who was then able to contribute fully to the success of the firm."
Matthew Van Maanen
Lead Data Security Analyst
Aegon Global Technology, Iowa
"I was raised in a rather conservative Iowa farm family. Growing up, I knew I was different, but I didn't understand why. It took me a really long time to even fully understand what being gay meant, and it took me even longer to accept it.
As for certain friends and family... well, let's just say it's gotten a lot better over the years. Initially, some were very upset. Some even tried to stop my wedding from happening. But I'm lucky. I have my mother's stubbornness and my father's... stubbornness. Plus, I'm incredibly blessed because I've always had an amazingly supportive network of friends to fall back on. Even at work, I've been fortunate to have great people surround me.
I came out about twenty years ago, when it wasn't as common or accepted. Certain people cut me out of their lives completely, and unfortunately, that's the reality a lot of gay people still face today... which is why coming out is still so important. While my coming out was incredibly difficult at times, I don't regret it for a second. I have an amazing life, and all of my life experiences have make me the person I am today."
Aegon Proud Ally
"I joined Aegon Proud, our LGBT and allies community, when I first started working at Aegon three years ago – mainly because I knew people in the group and they were by far the most fun people to work and socialize with. My involvement has increased over the years because I honestly feel so strongly that working in an environment which is open to everyone makes for a more productive workplace – and increases our chances of success as a company.
I'm originally from Northern Ireland – not always a place best known for its tolerance. Times are changing, though. I'm so glad my children see it as completely normal that the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) is 'out', for example.
Earlier this year my uncle died. He was a gay man who came out in the seventies. He basically 'had' to move to England in order to live a full life. I'd love to think that kind of ostracization doesn't happen anymore. So for today, National Coming Out Day, I'll be thinking of him and wishing I'd let him know during his life that he was loved, that I was proud of him, and that I'm sorry I never really said that in words while he was alive."
Business manager pensions
Aegon the Netherlands
"I am proud of how Aegon is investing in diversity and showing that we are an open minded company and welcoming to everyone. And that's why I would share my story. Normally I am not open about my private life but the gay community is very special to me and I am especially very proud of my sister.
My sister was heterosexual and in a long relationship with her boyfriend, in Dutch we say: huisje, boompje, beestje. Then when she was 21 for all of us "out of the blue" she told her (ex) boyfriend, then my parents and finally me that she is lesbian. My parents were totally relaxed and what makes her happy makes them happy. I myself was 16 years old and cried.
Not because of the news but because of that she was walking with this burden alone and didn't had the courage to tell me earlier. I was disappointed in that fact. She told us that the reason why she didn't came out earlier is because she was having issues with herself and she wasn't ready.
At that time I lived with my parents in a two bedroom apartment and without a doubt asked if she wanted to come live with us and specially me in my bedroom for a little while. We both think this was a special time living together in a room. I referred to this period in time in my speech at her wedding. Because now she is married with her beautiful wife Maaike and there is a little boy on the way (Maaike is pregnant). I am a proud auntie to be!"
Workplace Engagement & Support Consultant, Aegon UK
and Diversity & Inclusion Chair for the union, Aegis
"People come out every day of the week, they're faced with many different reactions, however one thing almost always present is a sense of relief and a new found freedom, unburdened by a lifelong secret, looking at the world through new eyes and with a new perspective. I've been through the process personally and speak from the heart when I say, I've never been happier.
I lived for many years fearful of my Dad's reaction (Mum was a breeze, "oh right, no bother son, thanks for letting me know") and not because I was afraid of him, I wasn't, I simply did not want to disappoint or embarrass him. In the end, I understand that he loves me unconditionally and he proudly extends that love to my partner and also my friends, many of whom are proud to be a part of the LGBTI+ community.
Perhaps I'm fortunate to have been blessed with parents who hold their children above imaginary lines of prejudice and simply ask that we do anything in life that makes us happy, always respectful of those around us. I cannot speak for those in a less favorable situation, however, I can say with absolute certainty that when you welcome likeminded people into your life, you will reap the benefits of living your best out life.
I'm hopeful that if you are gay, you will be encouraged to consider the positives of coming out and if that's you, understanding that I and everyone like me will celebrate your honestly, bravery and you for simply being you."
Program Manager D&I
"Helping people to be their best self, and to be connected and included, is my part of my DNA.
Thinking back, it's likely because of the way I was raised – there was often an extra seat at our table, and I'll never forget our backyard celebrations with 100's of friends and family. I've also known the pain of being left-out or feeling not good enough. I think most people have at one time or another. It's as painful as breaking a leg.
This is what gives purpose to my life and why I serve as a catalyst for creating a workplace culture that makes coming out easier. In my role, I knew starting out that I had a lot to learn and to do so had to surround myself with the right people.
I owe a debt of thanks to our Proud Employee Resource Group Leaders, Matthew Van Maanen, Kyle Frette, Wesley Chin, LaMar Johnson and former employee, Joshua Bechtel – each of them had trust, faith and the courage to lead and influence a more open and accepting culture for LGBTQ+ and helped us attain a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign, Corporate Equality Index.
I can't imagine how difficult it would be to every day hide or modify an important part about yourself. There's a lot to gain in coming out, and it continues to pose great risk for some people, especially if they don't feel that their work environment supports them. It takes all of us. Thank you to Transamerica's Leaders who are committed to inclusion and diversity and to having a workplace where it's possible to be your best self."