Together with the Forum’s co-initiator IBM and this year’s host and cooperation partner Raiffeisen BankInternational, we challenged the perception of the allegedly “progressive West” through giving a voice to LGBT+ workplace activists from different CEE countries.
Our guests and speakers showed us: Prejudices and stereotypes are pan-European phenomena. Even though Article 21 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the translation into the daily life of the LGBTI community is still an on-going process, with differing pace in different countries.
It is the responsibility of Western companies with affiliate branches in CEE to be a key player in increasing acceptance for the LGBTI community in these countries. This includes being aware of the specific legal situations, implementing transnational anti-discrimination guidelines, giving a voice to in-house role models, cooperating with local LGBTI organizations and many more actions.
This message was emphasized by the opening words of Patricia Neumann (Country General Manager IBM Austria), Hannes Mösenbacher (CRO Raiffeisen Bank International) and Irena Moozová (Director for Equality and Union Citizenship of the European Commission’s Directorate), who opened the 8th LGBT+ Business.
Creating awareness and giving examples of LGBT+ realities
Personal stories and specific survey insights were the centerpiece of the 8th LGBT+ Business Forum. We invited LGBT+ activists from different countries to share their first-hand-experiences in their professional lives.
Keynote speaker Miltos Pavlou from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights shed light on the results of the biggest LGBTI Survey of the world. The main findings: Fear, violence and discrimination are still a daily reality for many LGBTI people across Europe, whereas intersex and trans peoples suffer the most. Download FRA LGBTI Survey Presentation
“Being a straight ally is mostly about listening.”, said Christian Noll (General Manager of IBM-GBS/DACH), who gave an insight into his experience on actively showing solidarity with his LGBTI employees.
“The LGBTI Community is not visible in Croatia. Straight people don’t know of their existence.”Filip Mesić (Senior UX/UI Designer RBI/HR) shared his very personal story of being discriminated at the workplace while working in Zagreb.
“While the legal situation in Western Balkan gets better, it is not translated to everyday-life.”, said Dragana Todorović (Executive director ERA/SRB), who connects over 60 different LGBTI organizations throughout the Western Balkans and Turkey.
Melinda Miklós (CEO WeAreOpen/HU) emphasized in her Personal Story: “If companies join forces, they can make a difference.”
Being open inside of our company is not enough. We also need to show external engagement.” Straight ally Gabriella Pacso (Director of Marketing IBM/RO) strongly supported the idea of the company’s responsibility in societal structures.
After hearing the personal stories and survey outcomes, the participants had a chance to transfer their new learnings to evaluate a fictious case study about a lesbian employee getting a job offer in a CEE country. Three different Agile Work Streams addressed either corporate strategies, inclusive leadership or LGBT+ (straight) allies.
The lesson of the 8th LGBTI Business Forum is clear: There is still a lot of work to do! It is important for companies and organizations, as well as individuals, to not look away, to show strong support and solidarity and to listen to CEE LGBT+ activists. Because “being yourself is not an ideology, but your identity.”
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