RAINBOW COLORS AT THE WORKPLACE
Post Date: August 27, 2018
Recently Michiel Kolman, Senior Vice President at Elsevier, Professor Jojanneke van der Toorn were interview by the FD on LGBTI workplace inclusion.
To read the full article in Dutch click HERE
For a BNR radio interview with Michiel Kolman on LGBTI workplace inclusion (in Dutch) click HERE
Rainbow Colours at the Workplace
Where male-female diversity and cultural diversity within companies are high on the business agenda, homosexual and transgender diversity still has a long way to go. This is evident from conversations the FD conducted with several ‘experts’.
Professor Jojanneke van der Toorn (39) has held the LGBT Workplace Inclusion Chair at the University of Leiden since January. It appears to be badly needed as diversity regarding sexual orientation and gender identity is still in its infancy. “I sometimes hear from organizations that they have such problems because they have no LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) employees,” says van der Toorn. “But if you truly think they are not there, then you should really take a closer look at your policy. Are they not there, or are they afraid to come out of the closet?”
Being afraid to come out of the closet is a frequently heard problem. According to Michiel Kolman, Senior Vice President at Elsevier, who has been a strong advocate for a working environment in which everyone can be themselves, the perception is that homosexuality can be harmful to your career. “But this is absolutely not true,” he says. “Companies must therefore say: we are LGBTI inclusive.”
Not being open about sexual orientation has major effects. Research shows that over 20% of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees suffer from burn-out symptoms, compared with 12% of their heterosexual colleagues. It is often the people who are afraid to come out of the closet at work who do not feel well.
Paul de Vries (40), civil-law notary at Houthoff, never felt inclined to go back into the closet even though, when he was hired in 2007, there was hardly any attention to LGBT diversity. “Informal interaction makes it easier, but also more important to let the other person know who you really are”, he believes. “It is way too stressful to lie about who you are celebrating Christmas with or spending a weekend away with.” In recent years, Houthoff has been involved in the founding of Forward, a networking club for LGBT lawyers which regularly organizes meetings. “Even if a company is liberal and open-minded, you still have to keep it an open discussion. There must be role models that show that someone who is LGBT can also become a partner.”
The fear that homosexuality may complicate your career path is nevertheless fed by international research. In June European-American research showed, not for the first time, that homosexual men were less likely to be promoted to the top management echelon than their heterosexual colleagues. The reason being discrimination.
According to Professor van der Toorn, the existence of a pink ceiling is difficult to prove on the basis of individual experiences. In the Netherlands it seems that transgender people in particular can hardly make a career. Less than 40% of this group has a paid job. They are not accepted quickly. The cause of the problems? The norm. Van der Toorn: “Our system is heteronormative and so is the workplace: we basically assume that a person is a heterosexual who acts conform the gender identity that was assigned at birth. If this is not the case you fall outside of the norm and you are constantly confronted with it.”
What an organization needs to do to create a workplace where everyone feels at home is a difficult issue. Kolman founded Elsevier Pride in 2013, a network especially for LGBT employees, where heterosexuals are also welcome. He is also involved in the organization of national and international conferences on the subject. His role as figurehead gave him a place in the top 100 ‘Out and Proud heroes of the business world’ in 2014. Kolman
assumes that there is no LGBT diversity problem at Elsevier, but he can not prove this with numbers, because: “we do not know exactly who is LGBT.” It is a puzzle he wants to look into in the coming period.
Van der Toorn can not say which policy guarantees success. Many measures have yet to be investigated, and training to reduce prejudices sometimes even works counterproductive. Awareness alone is never enough. The professor: “It is important that organizations are aware and, in concrete terms, work on fighting bias in interactions and decision-making.”
Not only the recruitment policy, but the whole work culture is heteronormative. A lesbian employee who did not come out of the closet told van der Toorn that she got a clear picture of the prejudices of her colleagues while ‘undercover’. The image proved hurtful and strengthened her decision not to come out of the closet. Another employee who spoke with van der Toorn is a daily target of tough ‘jokes’ about his homosexuality. De Vries can relate to the fact that humor can be tricky. Even with him at work – ‘of course’ – sometimes jokes are made. What does he do? “Just make a joke back.”