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Changemakers Laura Bates (Everyday Sexism Project) & Gareth Thomas (commentator & former international rugby player)

Day 2 of Dive In in London got off to a powerful start with a Lloyd’s hosted event featuring two extraordinary change agents, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, Laura Bates and former international rugby player, Gareth Thomas.

Inclusion@Lloyd’s committee member Matthew Fosh of Axis Capital moderated the event, providing useful context and directing questions from a packed venue with standing room only.

Laura Bates spoke first, recounting the day in 2012 when she was inspired to start her work after she was sexually assaulted on a bus and followed home by a man who was openly threatening. She explained during an impressive outpouring of stats how we have normalised sexism in the UK with the argument that women are equal here, and there’s nothing to be concerned about, when in fact the data tells a starkly different story of under-representation in every facet of work, governance and the arts.

She founded the Everyday Sexism Project as an opportunity to share stories but found very soon that what she had actually set in motion was the biggest repository of data on the subject that there had ever been. She explained that this wider conversation around sexism has become a convening force, creating great potential and accentuating that we are at a tipping point for change, depending on whether people take action to tackle the problem at an institutional level. In a memorable example of great story telling, she brought the house down with an anecdote about a man who was determined to defend a woman being catcalled in the street, but unable to think of a verbal witty put-down fast enough, lifted up his own t-shirt to show HIS chest instead.

Gareth Thomas spoke about his early life as the backdrop to his story. He decided early to break with the family mining tradition to follow his dream to play professional rugby. In a moving description of the conversations he had with his family following a period of deep despair and suicidal feelings, he spoke of the acceptance and support that flowed not only from his parents, brother, nieces and nephews, but also how his team mates rallied.

‘I was walking a path no-one had been down before’ he said of his first few days in the media spotlight following his decision to come out to the world. ‘Don’t assume that because there are a few openly gay athletes in rugby, diving, swimming and football that everything is fine now’ he commented. He has used his media profile and dedication to creating conditions for other athletes to be the best versions of themselves to lobby parliament for homophobia to be included in the football offences act.

He movingly summed up the impact of being able to be honest on individual performance by saying ‘Do you know how fast you can run and how high you can jump when you aren’t carrying a huge weight on your shoulders?’