“We don’t all have the same starting point, and we must recognise that whilst we’re not in the same boat, we are in the same storm”
BY DYLAN MANN-HAZELL
Laura McLean, Strategic Talent Manager at Santander, spoke to myGwork about why intersectionality needs to be the focus of future discussions. She also shared her inspiring journey of coming to terms with her identity, adopting a sense of pride, and how being a part of the LGBTQIA community has left her with a richer perspective on life.
Raised in Glasgow in the 1990s, Laura’s initial experience of diversity was not as strong as it could’ve been – especially for someone who had a future striving for inclusivity and equality ahead of her. However, it was this precise lack of experience that inspired her to look further and move to a new city in search of more. Her life took a remarkable turn when she moved to Milton Keynes, where over the many years she spent there, she honed her adaptability and resilience in a position focused on leadership development and driving transformational change at Santander. Beyond her interest in implementing diverse and inclusive spaces, Laura is driven by a passion for creating an environment of psychological safety and helping others reach their full potential.
“My journey has been quite an adventure. But I am proud of every twist and turn it’s taken.”
Not only did her experiences in Milton Keynes inspire Laura to find her talent in the professional field – she also learnt to find herself. When going to a friend’s Disney princess-themed hen night party (an event that wasn’t particularly her scene) she decided to dress up as the villainous Cruella de Vil. Upon arriving, she found that someone else had also dressed up as Cruella, and Laura was immediately drawn to her. After spending the rest of the evening talking to her and getting to know her, Laura soon became aware that the language was becoming more and more flirtatious – and to her surprise, despite feeling very confused, she was ultimately okay with that.
“There was this human in front of me that had the strongest energy and connection I’d ever felt in my life out of nowhere – but she was a woman. And that was hard for me to deal with.”
During the early developing stages of this relationship, Laura felt uneasy about how she identified. A mix of a lack of diverse figures growing up, and a lack of LGBTQIA role models, left her confused and unsure about how to label herself. She recounted a time when she sought help at Santander after her boss noticed that she was acting out of the ordinary and asked to speak with her.
“I couldn’t say the words ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’ – I couldn’t get them out my mouth,” she remembered. “And my boss shuffled his chair around, he took my hand, and he said ‘There’s a label that’s much more important. And that’s happy.’ At that moment, I realised he was right. The only label that is important right now is happy. And something tells me that this human is going to make me happy.”
After a lot of self-reflection and discussion, they finally felt able to begin a relationship – a fulfilling and loving one that Laura is still in now. Just a few months into their time together, they both attended a Pride march in London, representing Santander. Since the start of their relationship, they had already been subjected to strange looks and occasional judgemental comments – but for the first time, surrounded by people who she knew supported her, Laura finally felt she could be her full, authentic self there. So, she kissed her partner, without worry, without fear – and the crowd around her cheered.
“That’s when I knew I was at home in that community,” she reminisced. “I’ve come to see that all those aspects of my identity that I doubted are my strengths. Just by talking to other people within the community and learning that everyone has something amazing to offer, and what I have to offer is amazing in my own way. My personal journey in identifying within the community has given me a richer perspective on life, and a deeper empathy for others.”
This feeling of elation and self-confidence was something Laura felt keen on passing on to as many people as possible. As the Be Yourself ambassador for Santander UK as well as being the LGBTQIA Embrace Employee Resource Group’s external communications lead, Laura speaks openly and honestly about her identity to help normalise and encourage people to feel comfortable in their own skin.
“I am a mixed race, adopted, bisexual, neurodivergent human,” she said. “So, I’ve had my own unique set of challenges and triumphs. Self-discovery, acceptance, understanding, not just of my own identity, but the diverse identities that make up our community.”
Looking to the future of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and beyond, Laura hoped to place a spotlight on intersectionality, and maintaining solidarity within the LGBTQIA community. At a time when basic rights for various communities are at risk, she believes it’s more important than ever for marginalised people to stand together where others seek to tear them down.
“It’s about emphasising the importance of intersectionality within the community,” Laura explained. “We don’t all have the same starting point, and we must recognise that whilst we’re not in the same boat, we are in the same storm. We even see discrimination within the community, the trans community are being attacked right now, and they need us over there. As a collective, if we’re respected and validated and understanding and working together on our unique challenges, that’s a wave of change that’s unstoppable.”
DIVA magazine celebrates 29 years in print in 2023. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQIA media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable.