Lucy Smith from Mercer speaks to myGwork‘s Alim Kheraj about allyship, why LGBTQ+ equality must be discussed in the workplace and her role as co-chair of Mercer Pride UK
Working in the world of finance was always on the cards for Lucy Smith. Growing up she used to see her dad, who was a consultant in the financial services industry, come home from work with his briefcase, and “I just wanted to go and do whatever he was doing,” she says. “I was good at maths and science, and so I just kind of followed that path.”
Lucy now works at Mercer as an investment consultant where she helps other companies support their employees when it comes to wealth management. “Mercer is just trying to solve problems for companies,” Lucy explains. “We have the career side of the business that is trying to help with the gender pay gap, setting salaries at the right level, making sure that people have the right career milestones and so on. You’ve got the health part of the business that is trying to define what benefits packages employees might want from different companies. And then you’ve got the wealth part of the business, which is where I’m working at the moment. There we work together with companies that have things like pension schemes and help them figure out how they invest or quantify how much needs to be paid to people while making sure that people get the money they’re supposed to get.”
While Lucy enjoys working in the investment side of things, she says that her real passion is consulting: “I just want to fix people’s problems,” she jokes. This desire to solve problems led her to become a diversity champion at Mercer and to the company’s Pride network, Mercer Pride UK, where she now has the role of co-chair.
“I’ve been at Mercer for about seven years now, and about six years ago I had this idea. I knew it was Pride month and I said, ‘Why don’t we do a bake sale or a quiz to celebrate?’ After that they suggested that I become a diversity champion,” she recalls. “That was quite new at the time and it became an initiative where people could be empowered to make changes. Since then, it’s really grown and developed. We’ve got loads more people involved. We have all these networks on a global scale and people are really supportive.”
Lucy isn’t LGBTQ+, but she is dedicated to being a queer ally. “In my relationship, I never have to worry about whether my partner and I should hold hands in the street or where we can go on holiday or where it’s safe to talk about exactly who we are,” she says. “I feel really strongly about the world being a fair and safe place for everyone. I think while there are still countries where LGBTQ+ citizens are criminalised and there are new anti-propaganda laws being introduced, I really wanted to invest my energy to try and at least get things on a fairer footing for everyone to ensure sure that they can all be safe, loved and happy with who they want to be.”
Lucy became deputy co-chair of Mercer Pride UK three years ago and co-chair 18 months ago. Since she became one of the organisation’s leaders, she has helped the group evolve from being mainly events focused to enacting real change at the company. She says they’ve made changes to company policies to make them gender-neutral and more inclusive, while also ensuring policies have explicit examples of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia so that people are aware of what those things look like. Mercer’s real estate processes are also being looked at to try to ensure that future offices will have gender-neutral bathrooms and Lucy says that pronoun sharing is also being encouraged.
Alongside that, Mercer Pride UK also organises regular social activities, with four key events each year. “These are focused on sharing role model stories, sharing stories and experiences so that people can also learn at the same time,” Lucy says. “But the biggest change that we’ve had has been during the pandemic where we’ve started doing these fortnightly drop-in drinks. There’s no pressure, but on a Wednesday, people can just pop by virtually and it’s made such a difference and created a bit more of a community. People feel much more comfortable to use explicit terms to describe themselves or their partners and so on. I think that’s been the biggest change.”
Lucy says she is really proud of the changes that she’s seen across the company, whether its staff putting their pronouns in their email signature or people being more sensitive about the language that they’re using to make it more inclusive. Part of her role as co-chair involves checking in with vulnerable members of Mercer Pride UK and she shares a monthly newsletter that highlights upcoming events the group is holding and recommends TV programmes, articles and resources that people can engage with, too.
She also works collaboratively with other groups at Mercer. “I align with our accessibilities group to look at accessibility requirements and our cross-generational task force to think about age as well to really try and incorporate the intersectionality across our events rather than it being solely LGBTQ+ focused,” she says. On top of this she’s now also just been appointed the Global Strategic Initiatives Leader for the Mercer Global Pride Business Resource Group, which she explains she is very excited about as it brings with it the challenge to support LGBTQ+ employees on a global scale, focusing on chapter expansion and talent acquisition.
One of Lucy’s key values in life is fairness, and this drives her passion for thinking creatively about solutions to problems that support people in their lives. It’s why she decided to start her own website, Diversity Dreaming, which supports Diversity and Inclusion Champions, HR Professionals and Business Leaders.
“A couple of years ago, I found out that colleagues were praying in the toilets during Ramadan,” Lucy says. “I questioned why we didn’t have somewhere for people to pray, like a multi-faith and wellbeing room, and I realised that people just don’t know about these things or know that these things are happening. So now we’ve got one in nearly every office because I championed for it. However, when I was looking into how to implement one, I had to go to 10 different websites to try and figure out what I needed to do. So, I wanted my website to be the place where someone could go for their D&I needs and get a ‘How To…’ guide for those things.”
For Lucy, it’s vital that everyone is brought along on the journey towards better diversity and inclusion and that conversations around D&I are conducted in safe environments and judgement-free zones. She also says it’s important to break down assumptions people may have about others.
For LGBTQ+ people, for example, “I really think one of the barriers is that people are either constantly having to come out if they choose to or feel like they have to hide a part of themselves,” she says. “I think that just takes up so much mental energy. And I’ve had people say, ‘But why do we talk about sexuality at work?’ Well, people don’t necessarily want to, but every time someone asks, ‘how’s your wife’ or ‘how’s your boyfriend’, they’re assuming someone’s sexuality anyway. You have to challenge that.”
In Lucy’s opinion, this is how one can ensure that they become a better ally to LGBTQ+ folk. “Sometimes people complain about things being a bit too politically correct, but I think it only takes a second to change any words that we’re using, even just to make it gender-neutral,” she says. “I think people need to listen and give others a space to talk and share their experiences while noting that they will be different. You can’t just assume that you know how a person’s experience of life feels.
“Also, it’s important to acknowledge that the LGBTQ+ community is diverse and there are so many different communities within this one community. I think a lot of people forget that and so it’s important that we make sure everyone feels seen, valued and respected.”
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