By Barbara Frankel
How do you reconcile inclusive corporate values and do business in countries that are homophobic?
There are strategies we share below that can help, everything from mentoring to creating global employee resource groups. But barriers aren’t easy to break given the intolerance that’s pervasive around the world.
DiversityInc offers insights from Accenture’s Sander van ’t Noordende, group chief executive – products, and Beth Brooke-Marciniak, global vice chair – public policy and the global sponsor for diversity & inclusion at EY.
Both Noordende – who has been an out gay man since joining the firm in 1987 – and Brook-Marciniak – a lesbian who came out three years ago to EY – were part of a panel earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos addressing the issue of being out in the corporate world.
Here are their 7 global LGBT strategies for companies and employees:
- Inquire about ethics. Pay attention to the company you are joining. “Make sure their values align with yours. Don’t join expecting something different,” Brooke-Marciniak says.
- Come out. Be open from the start. “Do you know why people hide that they are LGBT?” Noordende asks. “Because they are afraid to make people uncomfortable.” He notes that one week after he joined Accenture in the Netherlands, the annual office party was scheduled. He brought his partner “and it was okay.” “I just thought my private life was my private life. It was the dumbest thing I ever thought,” Brooke-Marciniak recalls. Being open about who you are may seem uncomfortable, they say, but the alternative is much more difficult — and impacts work effectiveness.
- Offer guidance. Mentor younger LGBT people (globally, even virtually). If you are young, seek an LGBT role model. “I was approached by someone in South Africa who was looking to see how to progress. It is all about confidence in taking a risk by being out,” says Noordende.
- Open the umbrella. An inclusive tone from the top is very important. “You have to have the right policies in place and actions in alignment so the environment is safe and it is clear that it is safe everywhere in the world,” says Brooke-Marciniak. She notes that “all EY can control is our workplace” and that the workplace must be inclusive for LGBT employees everywhere.
- Put mutual support in motion. Have employee resource groups all around the world. Brooke-Marciniak advises companies to be respectful of local cultures in countries that are not gay friendly but have the groups available for employees and “be very clear about what you stand for.” Noordende notes that Accenture’s LBGT groups these days are focusing on an inclusive work environment, attracting clients and business partners and creating effective metrics to measure LGBT employees on engagement and work progress.
- Accept intolerance aversion. Don’t push if employees, or their families, don’t want to work in a particular country because it is homophobic; rather, create other options. “We aren’t going to second-guess our employees. If an employee says, ‘I don’t want to go because I don’t feel comfortable or safe,’ we won’t send them there,” Noordende explains.
- Find non-LBGT allies.Increase involvement of straight allies, particularly senior allies, globally. “Once some [senior executive] had a gay daughter, all of a sudden the perspective changed. Everybody knows someone who is LGBT. We need them to hang out and find out we are just ordinary people trying to make a living,” Noordende said. And Brooke-Marciniak adds: “The mug on the desk and the flag on the door isn’t enough. They need to know how to be supportive and talk about the issue.”