June 21, 2013 — Welcome to the latest in our series of #WomenCan profiles, highlighting executives who are Catalysts for change in their careers and their companies. This week, the spotlight is on Kathleen P. Marvel, former Chief Diversity Officer at Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. Now retired, Kathy continues to coach companies and individuals on LGBT workplace policies.
MEET: Kathleen P. Marvel, Former Chief Diversity Officer, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies
Career path: Originally I wanted to be a teacher, and I taught for five years after graduating from Michigan State University with a BA in elementary education and special education. But I became disillusioned with the education system, and switched careers. I was hired by Chubb and sent to programming school, and worked my way up the ranks over 23 years to department manager in Information Technology. Since I had been a key player in the formation of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employee group and our Information Technology women’s council, I was known to management as a diversity champion and a driver of change. I was offered the role of Chief Diversity Officer when it opened up in 2004. I held that position for five years before I retired from the company. Now I coach companies on how to be more inclusive.
My role model: Brian McNaught, a highly regarded author and sexuality educator, was a tremendous inspiration to me. We first engaged him as a speaker at Chubb in the late ‘90s. He was passionate about educating companies about LGBT workplace issues. He modeled and encouraged authenticity. That helped show me how to be far more open at work, and I found that once I started being more open, people started to trust me more.
Coming out at work: For the first 14 years I worked at Chubb, I was not out to anyone except a few other gay or lesbian employees. The few people who were out in the workplace were really not welcomed at that time. When my dad died, many of my work colleagues came to the wake. But since I was not out to them, it was awkward for me to introduce Candy, my partner. Instead, I spent all my energy and emotion at the wake trying to keep the two parts of my life separate. There was no way I could consider coming out at a time like that. Looking back though, I was able to use that experience as the impetus I needed to take the steps to come out in my workplace and show management how to help employees feel more comfortable being themselves at work.
Why inclusive workplaces are good for business: Inclusive workplace policies help companies attract and retain diverse talent, which leads to increased revenues, innovation, employee engagement, productivity, and commitment. At Chubb, the LGBT inclusion education program targets all branch managers, with the goal of creating change throughout the organization, and the Gay and Lesbian Employee Network (GLEN) has the support of senior management and acts as an internal advisory board to the company, working closely with the Chubb benefits department to review all internal employee policies. GLEN also encourages straight allies to attend LGBT-focused events and educate Chubb employees at all levels. But diversity and inclusion is not just a program or a series of programs—it is a mindset. A comprehensive strategy with measureable goals is key to successfully shifting the way a company thinks about its LGBT employees and policies, and creating environments where all women and men can advance—regardless of race, gender, age, disabilities, or sexual orientation.
I am a Catalyst: Many workplaces are now very welcoming for gay and lesbian employees. Employers realize that in order to attract and retain talent, their policies and practices must be inclusive and equitable. However, most workplaces still need education and awareness about bisexual and transgender issues. In my retirement, on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), I give transgender inclusion presentations in all types of workplaces—corporations, hotels, government entities, educational institutions, and healthcare institutions, and work with HR to provide guidance on which policies and practices need to be changed. I also coach transgender individuals transitioning in the workplace.
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