Our first ever webinar in the topic of LGBT inclusion was a bit of a gamble, not knowing how our global CultureWizard community would react to a topic that’s still rather taboo in many parts of the world.
I’m happy to share that the feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive—powerful even. One individual said the webinar helped them see that their religious beliefs should not affect their “love and care for all people,” nor should it affect their desire to create an inclusive work environment—despite the fact they personally question the moral standing of the LGBT community. This feedback aligns with a common issue that comes up with our CultureWizard community members:
What should companies should do when their LGBT inclusion strategy is at odds with the legislative landscape in countries where there are few—if any—protections for LGBT people, or where being in an open, same-sex relationship is punishable by law?
Balancing Corporate and Local Values with Inclusivity in Mind
My position is that corporate entities with HQs in countries where equality is the norm should do what they can to be a voice of inclusion and progress when doing business in countries where LGBT people don't have the same level of equality. Of course, it’s imperative not to put employees in danger. But many things can be done to shift the perspective of the larger workforce around the need to be inclusive, even in small ways.
Similarly, Dr. Joel A. Davis Brown, the Chief Visionary Officer of management consulting and coaching firm Pneumos LLC, concludes balancing corporate and local values is primarily a matter of courage:
"While I know that many HR leaders want to be mindful of cultural humility and are sensitive to charges of Western cultural imperialism, I find the failure to promote inclusivity anywhere—especially within the 4 walls of one's organization—to be disingenuous and frankly unacceptable. While we can't hope to challenge or change the social landscape in many jurisdictions across the globe, companies have the obligation to protect their workers. Short of defying governments in an openly-disrespectful way, there are a multitude of ways that companies can create a psychologically safe environment for LGBTQ people. Once again, it requires thoughtfulness, clarity, and courage."
To learn how to balance corporate and local values around the LGBT community, Allan Halcrow, a contributor to the CultureWizard Blog, previously described three models:
· The When in Rome Model: Companies operate in ways that directly reflect the cultural norms and laws where they conduct business.
· The Embassy Model: Companies enforce LGBT-positive policies within their own walls without pushing for change in the broader community.
· The Advocate Model: Companies actively seek to effect social and/or legal change outside their organizations.
Under certain circumstances—especially when it comes to safety and security—the When In Rome Model may be the only option. However, I strongly believe that there will always be opportunities, however small, to employ the Embassy and Advocate models, no matter the location or culture. And some companies have begun to do so already.
Salesforce Establishes Employee Resource Group to Create Inclusive Environment in India
We can learn from Salesforce’s work in India, where society poses formidable barriers to being LGBT, in any shape or form. As a company that believes business can be a platform for social change, San Francisco-based Salesforce created an LGBT employee resource group (ERG) called Outforce in their Hyderabad office in 2018.
When Salesforce decided to create and launch Outforce in India, there wasn’t a single out LGBT person in its 1,000-person workforce. After communicating that the launch of the ERG would include a visit to Hyderabad’s LGBT Pride march, 50 people joined. For all of them, it was their first time attending a Pride march. To put this in perspective, only 8% of India’s LGBT workforce is out—and 41% are not out to anyone.
The company’s Chief Equality Officer traveled to their Hyderabad office to speak at a town hall event about Outforce’s purpose to create a safe, inclusive environment for everyone. At this event, several employees pledged to come out—in front of the entire audience! This set a powerful precedent—that LGBT people are welcome to be their authentic themselves and that they have the full support of the organization.
I recommend you listen to the Out & Equal webinar to learn more about the specific things Salesforce did to create such positive change.
6 Tips to Help Create an Inclusive Environment for LGBT Employees
Taking inspiration from both Dr. Brown and Salesforce, here are a few more ideas that fall into the Embassy and Advocate models for LGBT inclusion:
1. Offer a webinar on LGBT inclusion to employees globally. This is one way to reach an audience that may not be comfortable soliciting help from HR or management directly, for fear of “outing” themselves. In case you missed it, here is a link to view the webinar I co-led with Rita Wuebbeler.
2. Connect LGBT employees to mentors or coaches in countries where LGBT equality is the norm, and who can serve as neutral parties with whom to discuss the challenges of being LGBT in offices where there is no inclusion policy due to legislative or other barriers.
3. Invite LGBT individuals from other offices, cities, countries or regions to speak and share their stories at events where there may be no out-LGBT individuals willing to speak openly about the challenges of the community.
4. Identify champions of LGBT inclusion in each office for employees to approach in a safe, confidential fashion.
5. Host live events that take place in locations where LGBT inclusion is sanctioned legally, but extend invitations around the world for folks to join in-person or online (and anonymously!).
6. Establish employee resource groups (ERGs) in different regions or offices to help address the local challenges faced when creating an LGBT-inclusive environment. Since understanding of LGBT issues can vary greatly from city to city, It’s critical to meet people where they are, and to educate from there.
Let’s continue the conversation. Here are a few questions for you:
· What do you think organizations can do in countries that are not inclusive of LGBT people?
· What more would you like to learn about how to be inclusive of LGBT people?
· And, what are you doing now to be sure that you create an inclusive environment at your workplace, and in your life?