Best Practice: IBM’s Global LGBT Support

January 23, 2013 4:13 pm

By Barbara Frankel

LGBT: Global Diversity at IBMIBM has been a global diversity leader for the past decade, long before most multinationals had a focused international D&I effort. IBM’s concerted and consistent efforts to be inclusive of LGBT people are quite remarkable, even in environments where being out is illegal and can lead to death.

While most companies’ global resource groups start with and usually are limited to women, IBM has had global LGBT resource groups in almost all countries where being out is legal. In other countries, it has aggressively worked to change policies, a different tack than most companies that decide to make a safe environment within their own walls but rarely try to change human-rights policies.

“We are very proud that we are recognized as a global leader for LGBT rights,” says Tony Tenicela, Global Business Development Executive, Workforce Diversity and LGBT Markets, IBM (No. 17 in the DiversityInc Top 50). IBM’s global commitment to the LGBT market, he says, has had an impact on shaping societal views. “If we are able to demonstrate cultural leadership in those countries, it’s not just good business for us in increasing trust and credibility with clients, but it becomes socially relevant.”

The corporate team works very closely with the local IBM staffs, he notes. He cites the recent Teaching Respect program, part of IBM’s Centennial celebration. Partnering with GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), IBM developed a day of service for IBMers from all over the world to select a school of their choice to visit and promote anti-bullying of LGBT students. Tenicela is a member of the National Board of Directors of GLSEN, as is DiversityInc Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Barbara Frankel.

Employees in more than 15 countries in Asia, Europe and South America were interested in the Teaching Respect program, and it has become an ongoing employee initiative, working with IBM’s business-resource groups.

IBM’s LGBT resource group, EAGLE (Employee Alliance for Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Empowerment), was launched in 1995 in the United States and now has 55 chapters, including chapters in mainland China and Taiwan. Tenicela is particularly proud of the Czech chapter, which collaborated on organizing a business-leader forum, identifying LGBT decision-makers and influencers in IBM’s local customer base. Similar forums are being planned in several Asian countries, and in 2012, an LGBT diversity forum was held for the first time in Singapore, Thailand and Japan.

How does IBM handle countries, like Malaysia or Uganda, where being LGBT can put you in prison or condemn you to death? “We try to offer the same resources to the LGBT community in all geographies,” Tenicela says. That means a greater reliance on technology such as social media and collaborative internal platforms to create an “inclusive, welcoming environment and keep it consistent across all countries.”