“Coming out is a unique experience and people do it in different ways. Looking back, I stopped playing football as a teenager when I started to understand who I was and didn’t feel my identity matched with playing sport,” says Doug Edward, Senior HR Business Partner at Aon and captain of Stonewall FC, Britain’s first gay football team.
Homophobia remains the ugly face of football. 72 percent of football fans have heard homophobic abuse, and one in five 18- to 24-year-olds say they’d be embarrassed if their favorite player came out. “Sport can be such a massive part of people’s lives,” says Edward, “and growing up gay you often don’t have a sports role model that can make you feel accepted.”
LGBTQ discrimination can have a dramatic effect on the culture of sport. “Sport should be everyone’s game, but homophobic abuse continues to be heard in stadiums and practice fields across the world,” explains Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive Officer, Stonewall. “This needs to change.” Homophobia is also bad for business. It is estimated that the US economy could save $8.93 billion a year if organizations were more effective at implementing diversity and inclusion policies for LGBTQ staff.
With its established commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace, and as a global partner of Manchester United, Aon realized it could play a unique leadership role in convening other organizations to stamp out homophobia – on and off the field.
“Diversity and inclusion is the foundation on which we’ve built our world-class organization,” said Nichole Barnes Marshall, Global Head of Inclusion, Aon. “We created TeamPride because we know the power sport has to break barriers and be a catalyst for social change, and we have a proven commitment to creating a winning culture that delivers opportunities for everyone.”
In February 2016, the team – which includes Adidas, Barclays, The Economist, Aviva, The Guardian, Accenture, EY, BT Sport, Manchester United and Arsenal FC – met for a ground-breaking seminar at the Aon Centre in London to kick-off a campaign designed to combat homophobia in sports.
The event set a vivid example to organizations around the world about how to support inclusion, exemplified by a match between Manchester United Legends and Stonewall FC at the Aon Training Complex to raise awareness of the issue. Collectively, the players involved in these games set an example of true sportsmanship and acceptance of LGBTQ individuals for future generations to come.
“People thrive when they feel included,” explains John Amaechi OBE, organizational psychologist and the first former NBA player to come out as gay. “Supporting events like TeamPride is how we make ourselves a more inclusive and better society.”
But that wasn’t all. Aon subsequently helped Manchester United implement a new LGBTQ inclusion agenda. “Aon has been an incredible partner in helping us further our own message of diversity – both on the pitch and in helping to give us the resources to build an atmosphere of teamwork and diversity, where the heart of our success lies,” said Richard Arnold, Group Managing Director of Manchester United.
Collaboration made perfect sense to Stonewall too. “When allies get involved, it ups the ante of the work,” said Hunt. “We’ve been really lucky in that with Aon we have a real force of allies behind this work who recognize that making sport inclusive for everyone is not just good for LGBTQ people, but for everyone involved.”
Aon hopes the results of its award-winning campaign will lead to long-lasting changes that will influence others. “For us, TeamPride goes way beyond a single event,” said Jim Herbert, Chief Development Officer, Aon. “It creates something which has momentum as a conviction we share with our clients, colleagues, and community partners.”
1. ICM Research for Stonewall
2. Out Now Global Report, LGBT Diversity: Show Me the Business Case, 2015
3. Stonewall Data
4. Stonewall Data