10. 11. 2022 Corporate responsibility

LGBTI+ people should not have to hide at work. It is companies that can set an example and show how it can be done

Diversity Charter Slovakia organised another series of Small Talks aimed at the informal sharing of experiences on the issues of inclusion and diversity – this time on the topic of LGBTI+ people in the workplace. The subject is also highly relevant in the context of the recent terrorist attack on Zámocká street in Bratislava, which shook the country. At the same time, it opened a societal discussion about the rights of LGBTI+ people in Slovakia.

Richard Fekete from Slovenská sporiteľna, Matej Ftáčnik from Vacuumlabs, Lucia Gröneová from Swiss Re and Richard Hargaš from Accenture shared their experiences on how to effectively promote a culture of respect and acceptance in the workplace, and how companies can help prevent hate speech from spreading in society.

At the beginning of the online event, Roman Samotný, a long-time activist for the rights of LGBTI+ people and the owner of Tepláreň – the business in front of which the murder took place, addressed the participants. “That attack turned everything upside down and turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg of hatred in society. I feel a great urgency to act so that what happened is not swept under the carpet but that concrete steps are taken that will change the atmosphere in Slovakia.” He considers an open working environment to be one of the things that can make life easier for LGBTI+ people. For many, it is an acute need to have a space where no one will make fun of them but where they will feel safe and accepted. “The chance to get a job and be in a friendly environment will give many people solid ground under their feet and energy for life. It plays a key role in self-acceptance and well-being,” he said.

He sees that companies proactively focus on how to communicate LGBTI+ issues internally. This is a good sign, but the situation shows that more is needed. We need courageous companies that will also declare these principles to the outside world. “Companies can simulate the ideal world when the state fails and does not do what it is supposed to do. It would be an important step and inspiration for other companies and organisations. At the same time, this creates pressure on state organisations, the government and the parliament to see that what they consider undoable suddenly works well somewhere else,” he added.

R. Fekete: As a volunteer activity alongside work, this is not sustainable.

Richard Fekete, a specialist for the non-profit sector at Slovenská sporiteľna, emphasised that introducing the principles of inclusion and diversity in companies is a long shot. He knows this from his own experience. It took longer than a year to connect people from the bank interested in these topics. It was necessary to start sensitising managers and workers in the HR department and communication, who, among other things, also completed unconscious prejudice training. “It is a complex topic that requires a wide range of activities. It is not sustainable if we want to do it well as an individual volunteer activity alongside work. There must be a dedicated person for this, ideally full-time”, he stated.

He sees a possible pitfall in companies not being willing to allocate a budget to inclusion and diversity because of cost-saving. However, according to him, the activities can be done without high costs. A small budget is enough for the employee group to use. It is also essential that the initiative to support the LGBTI+, as well as other diversity issues, comes from the company’s CEO; pressure from employees is not enough. “It is not enough even if the company’s management wants it, but the employees do not. For it to be successful, there has to be a two-way flow – grassroots demand and leadership support,” he said.

M. Ftáčnik: If you are not open, you lose talented people.

“Companies are the bearers of change. If we unite on important issues, we can make a change,” Matej Ftáčnik, CEO of the Vacuumlabs software company, appealed to the representatives of the companies present. He gave several reasons why companies should be open to diversity – the diversity of people enriches us and brings new ideas and innovative approaches. If the company is not inclusive, it takes away a lot of potential in the form of talented people. “Imagine having to constantly disguise yourself and go to work without showing who you are. That’s not a space you want to work in long-term.”

At Vacuumlabs, they approach I&D topics very openly. Hundreds of people from different corners of the world work for the company. On the occasion of rainbow Pride, they prepared nine practical tips for the LGBTI+ community on navigating the laws regarding same-sex partnerships and a set of forms for specific legal cases. On the company’s premises, they introduced all-gender toilets, which also respect the needs of non-binary people. Matej Ftáčnik issued several recommendations to companies:

  1. Do an internal audit of company benefits and revise them so everyone can benefit.
  2. Set aside a budget and work with it for the benefit of this issue.
  3. Do not overdo it. Do not place 50 rainbow flags in the entrance areas of the organisation because you also have colleagues who do not need them.
  4. Find a balance, and support more than one I&D topic; you will achieve success with a healthy mix.
  5. Avoid positive discrimination. The company should be an inclusive space for everyone.
  6. Do not tolerate stupid jokes in the workplace. If you witness it, get involved, and you can stop it.
  7. Do not think it does not apply to you. Everyone has LGBTI+ people in their company; you just do not know about it.

L. Gröneová: We canceled benefits that could only be claimed by a certain group of employees.

In Swiss Re, the topics of inclusion and diversity are represented by the company’s top management. The bearer of these topics is the global CEO and the HR department. HR oversees the benefits and communication, and the selection process method is genuinely inclusive and diverse. Swiss Re does not have a full-time person for I&D topics in every branch, but regionally. In Slovakia, Lucia Gröneová, who works as HR Head, is the bearer of these topics. “Our main themes for these years are LGBTI+ support, support for parents, mental health, people with disabilities and the integration of foreigners,” she said.

In the first phase of setting up an inclusive culture, the company conducted an audit of benefits and HR processes and policies to prevent discrimination or unconscious prejudices. Initially, benefits were set up specifically for certain groups of employees. However, the company changed this policy – today all benefits are inclusive, and those that could only be used by a specific group of people were cancelled.

Several employee groups operate within our company. They are based not only on people belonging to the given group but also on their supporters. The groups have an allocated budget to plan activities and involve colleagues. It was after the tragic event at Zámocká in Bratislava that the LGBTI+ group was very helpful. “Together with them, we created crisis communication, an action plan, and as a sign of solidarity, we lit up the building in rainbow colours,” Gröne added.

R. Hargaš: You need allies who will support the cause in your company.

“We are a company that is based on people. Suppose they do not feel good and free to be themselves with us. In that case, they will leave,” said Richard Hargaš, director of the local technical division at Accenture Slovakia. He explained that for companies, inclusion and diversity also make sense from a business point of view. According to surveys, 46% of LGBTI+ people hide their otherness in the workplace and thus must constantly reinvent themselves at work. “It also has a significant impact on employee productivity. Being hidden under a mask and guarding what I can and cannot say takes a lot of energy and appetite for work,” he added.

At Accenture, there is an employee group, Pride Network, which has gone quiet during the pandemic, but the company wants to restart it. Allies, who express support for the given topic, are also important. They may, for example (and not only), put a rainbow sticker on the computer or a rainbow string around the neck. Educational activities are organised for the LGBT Ally group to react correctly in various situations. “We want them to be visible, active, to speak up when they witness inappropriate behaviour.”

As part of education, Accenture organises several workshops for its employees, for example, on topics related to the lives of transgender people or parents of an LGBTI+ child. The company was among the first ones in Slovakia to have equal benefits for all. It does not distinguish whether it is a majority type of family or a rainbow family.

Join the Our Lives are at Stake (orig. Ide nám o život)

At the end of the meeting, Lucia Pašková, co-founder of Curaden, which initiated and supported several civic initiatives in Slovakia, spoke up. She currently coordinates the Our Lives are at Stake (orig. Ide nám o život) platform, which calls on politicians to ensure the equality and safety of LGBTI+ people, their children and families so that they can live in Slovakia without fear and hatred.

Companies and organisations can declare their support by signing the appeal and joining more than a hundred organisations and companies that care about a safe country. And then also give consent to the publication of their name or title on the initiative’s website. At the same time, there is an opportunity to sign up for the Safe Space/We Are Tepláreň project and thus declare an effort to create a safe space for LGBTI+ people, their children and their families. By complying with the ten recommendations for creating a safe place, the employer receives a sticker through which the company sends this signal both inside and outside the organisation.

Companies and organisations can also contribute to the Fund for the Support of the LGBTI+ Community at the Pontis Foundation, established in 2020. Its mission is to support diversity in Slovakia regarding LGBTI+ issues. The fund was created in response to the state’s lack of financial resources for supporting the LGBTI+ minority and fulfils its purpose by supporting specific activities and institutional support of non-governmental, non-profit organisations that focus on this issue.

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