This week’s share your story features the Sexuality and Gender Alliance of Actuaries from the perspective of co-founder, Matt Gentile.
This share your story article is a part of the DEI topic series.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came into the actuarial field
A: My name is Matt Gentile. I am a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society. I’ve been in the profession for nine years. I first heard about the actuarial profession in high school. There was a teacher at my school in the math department that was leaving to become an actuary. I was looking into a career in math and at that moment it was brought to the forefront.
At the time, I didn’t think teaching was the right fit for me. I wanted something that had more real-life applications of math and was not as theoretical in nature. Actuarial just seemed like a good fit to me and I ended up majoring in Actuarial Science at the University of Connecticut.
Q: How did you get started with SAGAA?
A: It was right before the pandemic while I was working at CNA. My coworker, Jake Akstins, and I were both involved in the pride group within our organization. I was the head of pride at CNA, and we were talking one day about how a group for the LGBTQ+ community within the actuarial profession didn’t exist. It was a space that we thought there could be a lot of value gained from. We ended up going back and forth on it for a little bit and decided to reach out to some leaders that we knew at CAS to talk about how groups like this formed. At that point, there was already IABA and OLA.
We decided to run forward with it by creating a LinkedIn page as our starting point, just to get the word out there and try to be an educational front for people. It blew up from there and developed into being a group and organization that was out there for people to join and actively participate in.
Q: What is SAGAA’s main mission?
A: Our high-level mission is to facilitate connections between LGBTQ+ actuaries and allies. SAGAA focuses on creating a safe space for dialogue, community and career encouragement, while also being there to educate the broader actuarial profession.
But I’d say that’s more of our scripted answer on how we talked about the group. I think for me, the group’s mission is to get the word out there that we have LGBTQ+ people in the profession and that they are important and valuable to the profession. We wanted to create a safe space where everyone feels comfortable being their authentic selves and feels they are valued participants in the profession.
Q: How can people become a member or volunteer for SAGAA?
A: For the membership we don’t have any dues and there’s no forms that need to be filled out. To become actively involved with SAGAA you can follow our LinkedIn page, it’s where we post the majority of our information, events, volunteer opportunities and what we’re doing. Or you can sign up for our email on the sagaaactuaries.org website. There’s a spot at the bottom that asks if you want to be added to our email list and that’s where events and specific volunteer opportunities get sent out. We also have Instagram, it’s not as active, but it is an opportunity to connect as well. But, definitely a starting point to get a better understanding of the group would be connecting on LinkedIn.
Q: How have you seen SAGAA evolve since you’ve started?
A: I think the biggest evolution is that Jake and I were really hands on at the get-go, in the weeds of everything, and since then it’s grown to have a lot of people actively involved in participating. Jake and I actually rolled off of the board this past year. We’re still there as advisory co-founders, but we now have other individuals who have stepped up into the high-level positions where they’re running the day-to-day aspects of it. The board of SAGAA right now is six individuals throughout the actuarial profession with diverse backgrounds. Going from two to six people, that’s kind of a crazy change in just a handful of years.
Also, we started off really just being there to post educational content, that’s literally all we did for the first few months. This evolved into creating a community, having events where people can attend in person or virtual, and connecting with different companies to present and talk about the LGBTQ+ community. Last year the first scholarship opportunity was launched through SAGAA, and we were able to award four scholarships to LGBTQ+ students that were looking to join the actuarial profession. So, there’s definitely been lots of changes and evolution over the past three years.
Q: I know we had the presentation for our company. Have you been doing that for a lot of other companies as well?
A: Anyone who’s sponsored SAGAA was given the opportunity to have someone come in and present on LGBTQ+ 101. It’s been well received by a lot of people and an opportunity to ask questions that maybe they didn’t have another forum to ask them in. It’s going to continue to help create environments where people can be their authentic selves.
When Jake and I started we were focused on the educational aspect because to even push for the profession to be more diverse, people need to know what the LGBTQ+ community is and how they can support it. So that’s been a really positive aspect of those trainings. People have asked a bunch of questions, things that they necessarily wouldn’t be super comfortable with, and they’ve all been well attended, which is nice.
Q: What are some of the strategic initiatives, maybe even specifically for Pride Month?
A: I don’t know if can give a solid answer because I’m not in the day-to-day conversations with the board. But I would say they are constantly open to new ideas and opportunities. Sort of like what are members looking to see, what is something that they think is valuable? And I’d say expanding the suite of training that they offer is something that’s important as well. We started with the LGBTQ+ 101 but how can we expand upon that? If people have that base level knowledge, what other topics can we dive into?
They’ve also been working on a training that focuses on challenges in the insurance industry for the LGBTQ+ community. So, what challenges might you face with buying life or auto insurance if you’re a member of the community. Really trying to bring the education to another level and connect it back to our profession has been an area of focus. Also holding more events, getting into more in-person opportunities to get together is the focus now that we have moved to in person meetings again. At this point, we’ve had one in Chicago and New York.
Q: What do you hope are some main takeaways the actuarial community learns from SAGAA?
A: I think that the first one would be that the actuarial profession at this point already has a very robust LGBTQ+ community. We’ve seen from attendance and involvement in our events that there are a lot of LGBTQ+ actuaries out there and they’re becoming more vocal and feeling more comfortable being out in the profession. And because we know that Gen Z is identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community at a higher percentage than other generations, we need to ensure that the profession is one that is open and welcoming to all.
From SAGAA, I hope that people learn the educational background and they feel comfortable talking about the LGBTQ+ community, as well as being allies and supporters of their LGBTQ+ coworkers. Making the profession a place where they feel safe and can share their opinions on anything that’s going on in the workplace.
Q: What have been some of your favorite moments since you’ve started with SAGAA?
A: I’d say my favorite moment was when we had our first member meeting. It was a nice opportunity to interact with a lot of actuaries that I would have never met in my day-to-day job. One really exciting thing about the group is that it’s for all actuaries. It doesn’t matter what area of insurance they’re practicing in, they’re open to attend. I was able to meet life, health, and pension actuaries that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It was exciting to see how open and excited people were for the group existing. We had people of different generations that have been in the profession for a long period of time, and they were excited to see that this group was out there. That was a really rewarding experience for me.
Q: Any last closing thoughts or advice for future actuaries?
A: I think a big one is just be yourself and don’t be afraid to be authentic in the workplace. It can be really intimidating when you’re looking for a job. I know I’m always cautious of what I put out there. But there are companies that are supportive and there are plenty of actuaries that are supportive. I always look at it as you should only work for a company that is going to let you be who you are in the workplace.
Also get involved and participate in things like SAGAA. It gives you opportunities to connect with a bunch of different people and will be rewarding in the long run. It may even help you find a new job opportunity. And when you’re at your company, participate in their employee resource groups (ERG) or if they don’t have any try and start them yourselves. I’ve been at three companies of varying sizes. The organization I’m at now didn’t have any ERGs when I started and that was something that I pushed for. Three years later and we just participated in our first Pride parade. ERGs really help to make the workplace a more accepting open place. So, I say participate, get involved, and keep pushing yourself.
Article written by Marilyn Simpson; transcribed & edited by Cynthia Perez.
Be sure to keep your eye out for our next Share your Story series topic where we continue to explore the topic of DEI, featuring some very special guests!
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