Workplace Inclusion Podcast Series: Deon Pillay, Head of Marketing Operations at Legal & General Investment Management

Female businesswoman excused from a meeting to take a phone call

In the Robert Walters Workplace Inclusion podcast series we discuss key learnings and successes with leading businesses and individuals who are paving the way in diversity & inclusion. 

In this episode Tom Andrew and Anneline Klijnsma are joined by Deon Pillay, Head of Marketing Operations at Legal & General Investment Management.

Deon has built his way up through the Client Relationship Management world at Barclays before joining LGIM’s distribution team and is currently Head of Marketing Operations as well as acting as Co-Chair of LGIM’s LGBTQ+ Allies Network and also as Co-Chair of InterInvest. InterInvest exists to drive LGBT+ equality and inclusion across the investment industry in the UK, and supports similar initiatives globally.

 

Deon Pillay
Head of Marketing Operations
Legal & General Investment Management

 

Tom Andrew
Senior Consultant
Robert Walters

 

Anneline Klijnsma
Consultant
Robert Walters
 

Transcript:

Tom Andrew:
Hello, welcome to Robert Walters Talent Talk podcast hosted today by myself Tom Andrew, and Anneline Klijnsma from the RW Operations team. Today we have with us Deon Pillay from Legal & General who has built his way up through the client relationship management world at Barclays before joining LGIM’s distribution team. Currently, he is the Head of Marketing Operations as well as acting as the co-chair for LGIM’s LGBTQ+ allies network, as well as acting as co-chair for InterInvest LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion. Deon, thanks for joining us today.

Deon Pillay:
You’re most welcome.

Tom Andrew:
Good to have you on. Legal & General, obviously, most people in financial services will have heard of Legal & General, we hope. Curious to hear a little bit about InterInvest, I see it is something you have more recently been involved with, can you tell us a little bit about what they’re about?

Deon Pillay:
Yeah, sure. So InterInvest started off with a breakfast meeting between six of us from the asset management industry, talking about the challenges that we faced in the industry, being from the LGBTQ+ community. It started off more as a support network for each other and has quickly grown to become officially called InterInvest two years ago. What that is, is a collection of industry professionals that work in the asset management and savings industry to help champion and drive change for others who work in the industry but also attract LGBT talent into the industry. So it started off with six of us, we now have 30 asset managers signed up to say that they will drive LGBT inclusion, and they will support their employees, LGBTQ+ to make a difference for them in their businesses.

Tom Andrew:
Excellent. So it was something that you essentially took charge of and setup.

Deon Pillay:
Yes, Cathy and myself from Vanguard really both of us sat up and said we need to make a difference, what can we do, and that basically became InterInvest.

Tom Andrew:
Interesting. So what sort of Influence are you having with the asset managers who have signed up to it now?

Deon Pillay:
I think it's been great to see that the trajectory over the last two years, I think the area that we've really helped support them, like allyship training. We developed an allyship training program for them. We also help with what we call peer mentoring, so helping to establish their networks because you were probably aware of this, two years ago being LGBTQ+ in the asset management industry was something that was quite, people wouldn’t really come out, people were scared to be sort of outed at work and wouldn’t come out at work, because it meant that their careers would suffer. What we have now seen is a growth in the number of LGBTQ+ people that are either coming out at work or new joiners coming into the industry as well, which is really, really powerful.

Tom Andrew:
That sound very rewarding, taking a real lead in the fight, if you like. Certainly it seems like the whole global awareness, global acceptance seems to be going in the right direction. Obviously 2020 has been a tough year for a lot of people for a lot of reasons and various things like Black Lives Matter have almost been eclipsed a little bit by Covid. Do you think that those global movements have made it easier for you to get more buy in, if you like from the asset management industry?

Deon Pillay:
It was an amazing movement, the whole Black Lives Matter movement. I think what it's done is it's brought something to the forefront that was rambling on in the background. I think it's watching to really take stock and to look at themselves, in terms of the organisations to think about, what can we do more of. I think different people reacted in very different ways to the whole movement, for some it was an opportunity for them to be more vocal and some took a very conservative approach. Legal and General took a very considered approach, it wasn't about making a public statement, it was more about taking stock internally, are we on the right path, are we doing the right thing for our employees, and then start thinking about and consulting and asking people, what do you need from the business, what can we do more off. The whole George Floyd's case was, it's quite sad that it's taken one individual's life, to create this uproar and to resurface these issues that have been sort of carrying on for many years. I think what it has done is definitely raise the awareness, what I have seen, especially internally, was the ethnicity or cultural network that I'm part of as well, suddenly became a really powerful platform and it was great because it forced people to have uncomfortable discussions, discussions that normally people wouldn't want to talk about, race was a big thing, people felt very uncomfortable talking about it and talking about challenges, and talking about their experience. But what we found that people became more open and the number of allies stepped forward and started sharing their stories as well. What we've seen is the support internally from senior leadership, all the way through the business in terms of mentoring programs, training programs for education. I have been very fortunate and privileged, because I’ve been on a training program with some of my other colleagues and I just completed my qualification from a chartered management institutes becoming a chartered manager, and what we are doing is taking a more considered approach in setting up this foundation programs to build those talent pipelines, and those will become our future leaders, because the problem we have, lots of people had a knee jerk reaction, they were hiring top Execs, black Execs to be put in to these senior roles. The challenge with that is you’re then sort of stripping off the assets from other companies and you're just moving the problem to a different place. So it's very important to take a considered approach and think about holistically, how you tackle these issues and not just for all black lives matter, but for the other minority communities like the LGBTQ+ community. Agenda was a massive thing a couple of years ago, eight years ago gender started it's program, we need to be more gender diverse in the city and there was a big uproar around that because what companies did which I which I feel happened again with the Black Lives Matter movement, is there will be this knee jerk reaction. Let’s put people in to these roles, we don't provide them the right support and we set them up for failure. I saw that happen, eight years ago with gender equality, It was a very quick learning, and what I've now seen is a better support structure to empower females in the business to really embrace the knowledge and skills and strength that they have to really become strong senior leaders and visible role models as well.

Anneline Klijnsma:
Yeah, so that's a really good point. I wanted to add on that as well. I think it's really important to have a candidate pool that's diverse, but even more so, I find that the main thing that's needed for companies is actually to change within. I think that it's really good that it's a good focus to hire diverse candidates, but if companies aren't attracting diversity, I find that they really need to ask themselves why. So how do you find this in financial services, now I know you mentioned it's a knee jerk reaction a little bit, but are there some places that sort of always had a certain reputation and they're now changing? how are you finding that in terms of recruitment and actually changing things within is going in financial services?

Deon Pillay:
Yeah, I think you raised lots of valid points there, I think the danger that the whole knee jerk reaction piece, I think is something that is happening a lot in some parts of the industry. But, I think most companies now have identified the value that diversity brings to their business, into the bottom line. We also reflect on the fact that most of our customers now changing. It's a change demographic. We know that there's a very diverse client base that we attract, you know, and it is shifting into different communities. So you need to make sure that you have a case for all types of people and all nationalities and all cultures, ethnicities etc. What we have seen is that shift to people saying, let's have diverse talent pools to hire from and almost it's become a tick box exercise. Sometimes when you have five candidates, some have to be female to cover all the bases, but what we are still seeing, in some cases, traditional hiring still happens so it's pointless saying to people like yourself, consultants, give us a diverse talent pool. The challenge we should address internally and I'm glad that we've done this is make sure that we continue to train the hiring managers, around what diversity actually means and also for them to do that analysis with their teams and not just hire someone because they have a certain colour or certain gender, but hire the right person for the role to make a difference for that business. If you are just hiring for the sake of ticking a box, those people will leave. Back to your point, how you demonstrate that you are diverse as a business, on your website, are you are you displaying something that shows diversity, are you calling out the work that your company is doing. How are you demonstrating that you live by those values of being diverse and inclusive. Those are becoming much more important, especially when you're hiring millennials, what we are seeing is they are asking about those things, they are asking about policies, you know, do you have a gender diversity policy, how are you making sure that you're supporting all nationalities, how are you making sure that you supporting the LGBT community. It really warms my heart when I hear those questions in interviews, because it shows me that the world is shifting and changing. Now there’s still got to be more done in that space because it's not completely changed, an article yesterday pointed out to me, where it is a survey around the number of parents, and a quarter of parents find it embarrassing to have an LGBTQ+ child. I thought that that was shocking, the fact that we can judge our children, your flesh and blood, because they’re LGBTQ+ speaks volumes about how you will treat other people. Back to the point you're talking about and I think it is true, we need to educate people internally more, we need to each have better hiring practices internally and we need to hire, not because we want to tick boxes, but hire the right person for the role, and that will still bring diversity because you will such appreciate people, not because of their skin colour or their ethnicity, but because of the value that they will create for your business.

Anneline Klijnsma:
I think yeah that's a really good point. I agree that I'm glad to see the shift now, people are having more of those conversations internally and externally. I know, even in our office now we're having these difficult conversations, usually I'm one to start them, Tom, can vouch for that, but I think it is something that is becoming an internal focus too and as I said, and as you said, it's great to hire diverse candidates, it's great to focus on finding the right people for the role, but what are we doing internally. Which leads to another question. I see LGIM is very involved, I always see it on LinkedIn, that they're very involved with these topics. I know that they were part of the hashtag hundred black interns initiative, I see they're very focused on helping women returning to work and I regularly see them post about the LGBTQ+ initiatives as well. But, how are you finding it in terms of LGIM, I know you mentioned there's a focus on training and getting people involved, but I know you're very involved in encouraging everyone, but how's everything else going, do they actually practice what they preach, are there events dedicated to it, how's it working internally?

Deon Pillay:
Yeah, so I can proudly say now that D&I is not just a word for us, it's part of our culture, so our commitment comes from the senior leaders all the way through. We have a global diversity committee that looks at it as part of business strategy, we have different networks. We have one that's specific for focus on gender, and gender will be all genders, not just female empowerment. We have neurodiversity, it is a massive thing for us because neurodiverse people can bring a lot of value to the business. We have the LGBTQ+ network and allies network. We have the cultural network, which talks about different ethnicities and we celebrate all nationalities, all cultures and so I've learned about their values as well because it's really important in the way in which we do business. We also do social economic mobility, which is really, really important for us, it's about how can we make adjustments in the communities that we serve and that's a really powerful thing for Legal & General, our commitment is not just internal, it's definitely, it's very much externally facing as well. It's looking at underprivileged communities, rebuilding cities, investing in nursing homes, these are things that we do to make a subtle difference, I think, it is really powerful. All the networks work collaboratively and intersectional to make sure that we can educate peers, because you know LGBT individuals specifically also face mental health issues, right. We come from different nationalities and therefore that crossover and intersection between those make quite a good use case for most businesses to build their networks around the LGBT network because of the main touch points that it has

Anneline Klijnsma:
I think that's really good to hear, and I have to be honest, I really do see LGIM as one of the leaders in that because I constantly see these updates, I constantly see these initiatives and it's something that I can imagine you'd be very proud of to be a part of. I think a lot of companies, I'm hoping are moving there. I see a few LinkedIn posts where people are saying they're accepted for their gender identity and I think the fact that it's now something we celebrate, which is fantastic but also breaks my heart that that's still happening now that we have to highlight these celebrations. bBut no, this is good, we should be celebrating it, but I just mean I can't believe the fight is still going. I think it is such, diversity & inclusion, you mentioned it before, it's such a broad term, it covers everything, it covers race, gender identity, sexuality, disability, age there as well. How do you find it being discussed now in financial services as a whole as compared to two years ago even?

Deon Pillay:
Two years ago, it centred primarily on gender equality. I think it then started to move a bit more into the LGBTQ+ space, then diversity became a buzzword and 2020 was about ethnic diversity and specifically the focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. What it is doing, is starting to open up the conversation, which is something we should be proud of, not proud of the fact it has taken us this long for us to talk about these things, but the fact that we are starting to see a shift in our industry is powerful. We know that other industries have thought about these things, specifically LGBTQ+, the legal industry pushed that agenda a couple years ago, the last 5/6/7 maybe even 10 years. We are in a very early part of our journey in terms of D&I in the asset management and savings industry, the bank's got there before us which is great, they decided to consider these things. We must remember these are very traditional businesses, but equally, they are embracing these changes, they are doing things slowly, but they are doing things right. What they're doing is they're taking a very considered approach to make sure it's not just a knee jerk reaction to the current climate. They’re thinking, what are we doing longer term, what are we building for longer term. Yes, sometimes it's going to be difficult for people to understand this, I can't convince everybody to change, to accept the LGBT community, but what I can do is use my platforms. Like I said, one pebble can make a ripple and if we all can be the one pebble, think about the waves you can make in driving that change our industry.

Tom Andrew:
You can certainly see the change that has been happening. Frankly, even in the end of last year, or middle of last year where we had pride month etc. even on the walk to work, our offices are in Covent Garden and just walking down the strand you can see the likes of Coutts, for example. I'll remember that for a long time, how they basically put the full rainbow flag over their entire building, and just the fact that there is a big shift towards support, and the atmosphere about it is obviously improving. It's just that there is definitely, as you say, a wave of momentum going across the industry at the moment. A little bit of a personal question, but I am curious if you'd be happy to share perhaps some of your best and potentially one of the worst D&I experiences that you've had? Hopefully we’re moving more towards the best rather than the worst.

Deon Pillay:
I think it's a really good question you asked, because I think it's important to understand why I'm so passionate about what I do and why I do what I do. I was actually outed at work a couple of years ago and it was the most painful experience in my life, sort of reliving that moment of being outed in front of all my colleagues and nobody stepping in to actually say something. Then the next morning, almost makes you feel like it was my fault, and then not having that support and then eventually someone challenged me, saying, what are you going to do about it, how are you going to make a difference, and there was a turning point in my life where I said okay, actually, what am I going to do about it. That's when I stepped up and took the platform to be the original chair of the network, as a one man band and tried to make a difference. I very quickly realised, and this was the most empowering and powerful thing was when I actually took that platform and shared my story publicly at work. The amount of support and the outpouring of love I received the next day was shocking. I mean, all the way from the CEO saying how can we help make a difference for the LGBT community at work. It was empowering to share my lived experience of my story and talking all the way back through for me growing up and challenges I faced being LGBT, especially from being from an ethnic minority community. The best point for me is seeing that gradual shift of people accepting and embracing people, people being able to be their authentic selves at work. People will say, oh, you know, be your authentic self, what does that actually mean, it means being free of the shackles to walk in and just be you, to share and for people to be respected for the work that you do and not being judged for your ethnicity or your sexuality or your gender preferences. Those are the things that are really empowering for me, so seeing a shift in the industry over the last, I would say five years, more so the last two years has been fantastic. I think also seeing people reach out to me, it's not about the awards, I've been very fortunate and very privileged to receive awards etc. but those things aren’t important to me. What makes it really worth my while is when I get an email from a young man in India or a young man in South Africa saying to me, thank you for being a role model, thank you for being with me, thank you for making a difference to me, that really fills me with joy and gives me the recognition and reward. The other really important thing, I do hope one day that the industry will be a place that's filled with equality, because we've done great work in ticking the boxes but it's about making sure that we build a strong workforce that respects each other and we don’t have to talk about D&I, D&I doesn't become a thing anymore. It's about human kindness, human understanding, acceptance and love.

Tom Andrew:
You’re obviously speaking very passionately about it, you can see how much this whole subject means to you very clearly, but I'm curious on the back of what you mentioned you got people from different regions reaching out to you. What sort of advice would you give somebody just starting out in the industry who is LGBTQ+, for example, what's your advice to them?

Deon Pillay:
The most important thing for me, I think, is be true to yourself and if somebody asks, tell them that you’re LGBTQ+, to join a firm that values you for you, if it's more about, if you’re scared to be yourself in the business, do you belong there. Ask yourself that question, opportunities will come to you. I think mentorship is really important, look for mentors, look for real models, not role models. Real people who share their experience, hear their stories and be comfortable with who you are because when you’re authentic and when you’re yourself, you'll find that you'll have better outcomes for the business because you'll be free to do what you do best to bring your full self to work, to share your knowledge and value and really help generate a culture where people can be honest and open.

Tom Andrew:
Thank you for that, it's really, really good to hear. Something that you keep coming back to is this mentorship point, is that one of the main things that you want, if there's one thing that people listening to this will take away from it, companies, listening to this podcast potentially would take away, is that mentorship is a huge, huge part of what would attract and inspire and develop talent?

Deon Pillay:
Well, it's two things. The first thing is mentoring, as in normal peer to peer mentoring but also reverse mentoring. So senior leaders should really embrace reverse mentoring and sponsorship. So from a reverse mentoring perspective, understanding the challenges that marginalised communities face, be the LGBT community, be it females, be it a neurodiverse people or ethnicity, people of colour. Understand their lived experiences, understand how you can help make a difference for those individuals. The other thing is it is really important is to understand your own privilege. It's taken me years to realise, actually, I am also privileged, so it's understanding what makes you privileged, and how you can help make a difference through that mentoring, so giving up your time to help others, but also, just being a good ally and understanding what allyship actually means.

Tom Andrew:
Obviously one of the hot button topics that we've got on the go at the moment, is something we alluded to earlier is, wellness in the workplace and mental health, at the moment, particularly with everybody being locked down. You alluded to it earlier, but there is a link between mental health, mental wellbeing and the D&I space obviously. Are they really separate topics in your mind or can you take one approach to deal with both sides of it?

Deon Pillay:
That's an interesting question and one that can be debated for many hours. For me, I think it's one that I see as integral to D&I, but because we also have, part of our D&I culture network is the health and well-being, really, really important. If your people aren't in the right frame of mind, if they’re stressed, if they're overwhelmed and overworked and tired. Especially now in 2020, it's become a bigger challenge, being stuck in the apartment, I can relate to this, being stuck in the apartment 24/7 on your own can be can be draining. Then you've got the work pressures and people not be able to switch off because they’re working remotely, spending more time on your computer  and you just don't have time to take a break, you don't feel like you take a break, because you're always in work, even when you're at home. I think it plays a part in both in the D&I space and in sort of normal day to day life. It's making sure those networks have support structures to help those individuals recognising that each person has a different need. It also depends on the community that you're coming from, that need can be very, very different. I can speak as an LGBT man of colour, my need might even be very different for somebody else who's suffering a very similar type of mental challenge. Because we all have mental health, and it is making sure we keep our mental health and that means doing things that are important, we're very lucky again with Legal & General what we all we have and what we've been empowered to do is take the time out, block out your diary, we've been given access to great apps, like mindfulness apps and things like that. We have people coming in and mindfulness programs for us. We really invest in people's health and well-being, because it's so, so important right now and we shouldn't underestimate the power of ensuring good mental health.

Tom Andrew:
I totally agree with that. I think Robert Walters has been for it’s part, Anneline can probably give you a little bit more info on it than I can, but certainly Robert Walters has been massively focused on D&I, and more recently it's been that kind of mental well-being with everybody being on lock and key at the moment, is something the senior team has been very, very good at promoting very, very vocal about. It comes back to that same point always it's about the communication, it’s about learning from each other, it's about just basically being there to support each other really. But I think we're very, very lucky to be in a company like this something similar to Legal & General where we have got the tools, we have got the support in place that are there to look after people in this year of all years.

Anneline Klijnsma:
Yeah, I think we're doing that quite well in this company and I think also in terms of D&I, we're making sure we're actually working on these things. We've hired an external agency to evaluate what we're doing well and what we can improve on and because we're such a global company, it's obviously extremely important to make sure that everyone feels appreciated and heard and taken care of. We've got lots to do, but also in terms of mental health, they're very supportive of that. There's never a moment where you don't think, I don't have support and I think that also comes down to our managers and directors who are very open about these conversations. Everyone can struggle, but I can imagine in terms of it's been a tough year also in terms of D&I there's been so much going on and the whole world is getting involved now and there's lots of conversations. I think it's good that these conversations are happening and it's good to know that our companies are supporting our mental health, while these conversations are happening. It's very positive to see. So I guess that leads me to another question, what is your hope for financial services in the future in terms of D&I and specifically the LGBTQ+ community?

Deon Pillay:
I guess my hope for the future is that we are more reflective of society in terms of, at board level, we've seen lots of people say, we are gender diverse, but what does that actually mean. We’re seeing it’s still very white, you have 50% white female, 50% white male. I see a bit more gender diversity there, but also people of colour be included on most boards. I'd like to see people from the LGBT community being featured on those boards as well. I think I want to reach a place where we don’t have to talk about gender, LGBTQ+, neurodiversity. Those things no longer exist. Like I said earlier on, its making sure that we just respect each other, human kindness, human compassion and that anybody, irrespective of their background, diversity, etc. is embraced and accepted in our industry. In order for us to be successful as an industry, we need to be more diverse in our hires and by that I mean looking outside of the asset management industry, bringing in really talented people like developers you don't have to work in finance to understand what to do. You know, we move into a very digital space, so it's embracing the talent from all communities, specifically the creative LGBT community. to really help make a difference. So I think it doesn't matter who you are but you belong, I think that's what I would like to see in the future.

Anneline Klijnsma:
That's very well put, I agree, and I hope so too. I hope it gets to a point everywhere, in every industry where it's no longer talked about. I was explaining this to someone as well that I think it's so good that this is what we're talking about now, but that I really hope eventually one day it's not something we need to talk about anymore because it's just how it is, it's just at the core.

Tom Andrew:
There's almost a conversation with the ultimate goal of having to stop having this conversation. If you'd like, to make it become the new norm.

Deon Pillay:
I agree. I think what we all need to be doing is less talking and more doing. The more we stop talking about these things and take a proactive step to make that difference, then that can be achieved because there's so many people saying, oh, you know, if only we could, it should be we shall and we will.

Tom Andrew:
Absolutely. Okay, fantastic. I think we’re probably at a point where we can we can wrap up I think, but unless Anneline, you had any more questions, or do you want to raise anything Deon?

Deon Pillay:
No, just to say thank you very much for having me on this morning, it's been great chatting to you and thank you for helping me make a difference for all communities.

Tom Andrew:
Well, we certainly hope we are on the right side of the conversation at least and doing our part from the recruitment side to promote D&I and make sure that we are supporting our clients as best we can, across the industry, but also of course our own global businesses. Thank you. Thanks a lot for joining us.

Anneline Klijnsma:
Thank you so much for joining us this morning as well and walking us through your experiences and really telling us what you're doing. It's absolutely amazing to see how you're paving the way and just being an example. The fact that LGIM is doing this as well, and really supporting everyone that's just fantastic to see. So thank you again.

Deon Pillay:
Thank you both. 

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