05. 12. 2017 Corporate responsibility

It Is Exhausting If Employees Cannot Be Themselves

The LGBT Business Forum focused on how to create an inclusive work environment in a company.

Why is an inclusive work environment important for company’s operations and success? How does the situation with the LGBT inclusion in companies in Slovakia look like? On the 30th November at the LGBT Business Forum 2017, more than 50 participants mostly from the corporate sector discussed these issues.  

Respect and Tolerance Pay Off

The main speaker of the event was Pete Mercer from British organisation Stonewall. Stonewall was founded in 1989, at the time when there were frequent homophobic attacks and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Britain. Thanks to activities of Stonewall, several changes in legislation have been introduced, such as lifting the ban on accepting homosexuals in the army or allowing marriages of the same sex.

“The environment in companies or other workplaces is a reflection of how this topic is perceived in society as a whole. On the other hand, it also provides a great opportunity to change these social standards,” said Pete Mercer at the event.

Inclusive workplace, where there is no discrimination and individuality of all is respected, not only enables the company to adhere to the valid legislation of the country but also brings demonstrable economic advantages. Such workplace attracts new talents, and particularly because it allows people to be themselves, the employees remain. Employees are more creative in a respectful atmosphere, and there is also a greater degree of collaboration and networking in this environment.

According to the Credit Suisse survey, employees who need to hide their sexual orientation at the workplace are up to 73% more likely to leave work in next three years than those employees who can be “out” in the workplace.

“It’s exhausting if the employees cannot be themselves. On the contrary, if they are enabled to be themselves, they are more motivated, have more energy and better performance, “added Pete Mercer.

LGBT Allies in Companies

Richard Hargas and Lucia Skraková from Accenture emphasized the importance of supporting this issue by both global and local management. In the company, the so-called LGBT Allies proved effective – these are employees that openly support LGBT inclusion, regardless of their own sexual orientation or gender identity, for example by wearing a “rainbow” lace with their work card.

As of May 2017, Accenture employees can claim family benefits regardless of their orientation/identity. “We only require an honourable statement, for example, that a child was born or adopted. We also provide a wedding bonus on presentation of a proof of a registered partnership from another country,” said Lucia Skraková.

Marek Novotný from IBM pointed to the Out Now survey from 2015, according to which only 9% of employees in Slovakia told their colleagues about their sexual orientation. At IBM, which has released a “rainbow” version of its logo this year, there is an active volunteer group called EAGLE. Moreover, in addition to their day jobs, 130 members organise various activities and events to support LGBT inclusion.

Supporting Diversity in Everyone

During the first two years, every IKEA employee goes through a series of workshops that support inclusion, emotional intelligence, and help erase subconscious prejudices. “In our Central European region, we often encounter the attitude that there is no need for such trainings, that we do not discriminate, we have no prejudices … And thanks to the workshops, employees then realise that the stereotypical thinking is in each of us,” said Eva Solamounova from IKEA at the event.

Santiago Mendez from Lenovo confirmed that the main challenge is to break people’s lack of interest and convince them that expressing support for diversity is important. The employee volunteer group Diversitas he leads was presented the European Diversity Award. The enthusiasm of a small group of people who began to organise different activities in Slovakia has grown into company’s global initiative.

The conference participants also had an opportunity to try out role plays in situations that may occur in the workplace in relation to harassment, offensive remarks, and intolerant behavior. The interactive workshop was led by coach Paula Jójart.

At the end of the event, Martin Kuchta presented a media campaign from the Noizz website, which aim was to erase stereotypes in society. Noizz introduced six people who differ in some way – highlighting the values of uniqueness, originality, and diversity. “We are an open-minded brand and we are not afraid to stand up for our opinion. We did not care to lose fans who disagree with the campaign and who have a different opinion than we do,” said Martin Kuchta about a campaign that reached nearly a million people online.

The LGBT Business Forum was organised by the Business Leaders Forum and the Diversity Pro organisation within the Charter of Diversity Slovakia initiative.

See which companies joined on the 30th November this public declaration for support for diversity and inclusion at the workplace.


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