Samantha Jayne Nelson: Reflecting on Her British LGBT Awards Experience

Business leader Samantha Jayne Nelson was named UK Diversity Champion at the 2017 British LGBT Awards. It’s a night she remembers well. “It was an unbelievable experience,” she says. “Just being nominated was absolutely fabulous. At that time, I’d been sharing my experience of transitioning, sharing my truth, fears, hopes, the power of authenticity and the life-affirming impact of allies. I believe that we all deserve to be seen and the 2017 LGBT Awards was the first time I’d felt truly seen as myself. It was such an emotional moment. Years earlier, I was told that if anyone found out about my truth I would be rejected, ostracised and condemned. In actual fact, my authenticity set me free and empowered me to do more for others. I was on cloud nine. I honestly could not stop smiling.”

For Nelson, championing diversity is second nature to her. Currently Vice President of Marsh’s Risk Engineering Team, her previous job titles have included Offshore Installation Manager with Shell. Having transitioned in the traditionally male-dominated workplace of oil platforms, she’s committed to helping people understand the value of authenticity, inclusivity and the positive impact of allies, leaders and HR professionals. “Talk is important, as it builds awareness,” she says. “But, at some point, you need to rise to the challenge of questioning the status quo. Lifting others who perhaps don’t yet have a voice is the recipe for growth. Positive visibility and empowerment in places of traditional power remain sadly lacking. I believe in empathy, compassion and allowing people to share their own stories, as I find this is something that helps to create a world that’s worth living in for everyone.”

For her, events like ours offer a glimpse of how this world might look. “Wonderful events like the British LGBT Awards make a difference in so many ways, giving people a platform to share, elevate and celebrate, and creating a space for everyone to know that they are not alone. We are all on this journey together. Life is not just about survival. We need to shift focus and try to enjoy the ride while encouraging others to feel they belong. Nights like the awards are joyous moments of escapism which offer us a glimpse of how the world could be. For me, success is two-fold. First, have a positive impact on those around you. Second, never give up. Continue to learn, teach, share, experience and, above all, grow as a person.”

If there’s one thing life has taught her, it’s that you have to believe in yourself. “Breaking the negative internal dialogue of learned experience has been a real journey for me. ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you must fit in.’ These thoughts were all deeply ingrained within my psyche. Realising that these limits, these thoughts, were not of my own making but placed upon me by others allowed me to unravel the instilled shame narrative and live my truth. I no longer wear a mask and try to force myself to fit in. I now stand or fall in my own authenticity. That is my greatest life lesson.”

This isn’t to say that Nelson doesn’t still find life challenging at times. “I am quite introspective and comfortable in my own company with a book or music. But for me, joy comes from sharing moments with others.” She’s never happier than when she’s “in the supportive embrace of friends who remind me that I am enough, I am loved and cherished as myself.”

Nelson believes strongly in the importance of finding your chosen family. “Be open. Listen actively without judgement. Be supportive of others. Share stories and encourage growth with your interactions. Life is a learning experience. The only thing that is within our control is our reaction to our experiences. So when good fortune presents you with an opportunity to be in tune with others in a positive way, embrace the experience and encourage one another to be the best versions of yourselves. This is family.”

If there’s one piece of advice she’d give to her younger self, it would be this. “Believe in yourself. Be true. Be honest and don’t worry. The darkest storms are the birthplace of the most glorious rainbows.”

Interview by Paul Burston