Making It Real - how hard can it be to take your LGBT+ agenda global?

17 May, 2017
Fleur Bothwick

I recently spoke on a panel at the annual Stonewall conference about taking the LGBT+ agenda global.  I was joined by an interesting writer on politics, economics and social trends and a London based lawyer, Harry,  who is an incredibly energetic advocate of this topic across his firm globally.  It made for a lively and interesting conversation, but sadly I concluded that there are still more challenges than solutions for our work in this area. 

The first challenge is to actually unravel what is fact and what is just ‘convenient’ to tell us.  For example, I am often told that it is illegal to be gay in India.  That isn’t the case and I’m delighted that I have a thriving allies program across several of our EY locations in India (although sadly there are over 70 countries in the world where it is illegal to be yourself and some 20 countries that carry the death sentence).

Harry talked us through some of the most common excuses that people give for not wanting to get behind this agenda – we westerners are promoting western values, people will be uncomfortable to talk about this topic, people’s private lives are not a workplace issue, it’s too sensitive.  All of these, I think, can be addressed.  What stops me in my tracks is when someone suggests that we really have to balance reality on the ground with the messaging that head office is sending – I have to agree.  For example, in some of our locations in the Middle East and Africa, it just isn’t safe to be openly gay and we shouldn’t be promoting networks.  If someone reported a colleague to the local authorities for being gay and they were arrested, there is not a lot that we can do to help them. 

However we did all agree that whatever your geography, there are some things that all companies should be doing.   

  • As I mentioned earlier, a strong allies programme is a powerful way to send out messaging to your people that you are offering a safe and supportive work environment. 
  • Sponsor local NGOs who can keep you up to date on the legal and societal challenges you are facing and you can offer them pro bono support, such as printing of their collateral or giving them meeting room space. 
  • Join the Stonewall global network which is thriving with companies keen to share what does and doesn’t work in their locations.
  • Convene CEO forums to get them talking about this agenda – in February we hosted an event in South Africa with Open for Business who have published a very powerful business case for LGBT+ inclusion. 
  • Get your staff to take part in local Pride marches and get your leaders to influence ‘behind closed doors’.    As Harry said on the panel, ‘you can be part of a movement, you don’t have to lead it – but whatever else, we will not be neutral’.

I was horrified to read the reports of torture, beatings and killings of gay men in the Russian republic of Chechnya.  It is difficult to stand on the side lines when such unspeakable acts of violence are taking place, but again, it is difficult to know what to do as an organisation – but we must do something, even if it is small steps. 

For anyone interested, at EY we published a small booklet with nine steps that all companies can take to support their LGBT+ community  and most recently we have turned it in to an animation – this may be of interest -