LGBTI network at thyssenkrupp

People at thyssenkrupp | Work can be so diverse

I recently read a statistic that I found hard to grasp: 46% of the LGBTI community – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual people – have already experienced discrimination at work. A recent study by the German Association of Gay Executives (“Völklinger Kreis”) also indicates a need for action in this area: only 50% of companies stated that their diversity efforts take account of the LGBTI community and their interests.

So I’m particularly delighted that an LGBTI network with Oliver Burkhard as its patron was officially established in the tk Group in January 2016. I spoke to Deborah Untheim, one of the network’s founders, about what discrimination at work is like today and what the LGBTI network at thyssenkrupp is consequently aiming to achieve.

Debbie, how did the network become established?

To begin with there were only three of us. Three colleagues who met regularly for lunch and at some point asked themselves: where are the others? Among 155,000 employees we surely couldn’t be the only ones who weren’t heterosexual. Eventually contact was established with “Diversity & Inclusion” and as a result our regular meet-ups gradually got bigger. At the beginning of 2016 we officially launched the lgbti@tk network: CHRO Oliver Burkhard became the patron for lgbti@tk, for which we presented him with a rainbow-colored umbrella. The network now already comprises around 30 people.

What are the aims of lgbti@tk?

We want to be visible and in doing so break down prejudices at all levels. To this end we arrange workshops and organize panel discussions with representatives from business, politics and public life to raise awareness. Next year we are hoping to have our own thyssenkrupp float in the Christopher Street Day parade in Cologne. Ideally we would no longer need the network as everyone is aware of LGBTI issues and accepts us in day-to-day company life. Until then we are holding a regular lgbti@tk lunch to which LGBTI friends, i.e. heterosexual colleagues, are also invited.

How are prejudices expressed at work today?

I once heard a colleague comment on the subject of diversity: “Are we supposed to only recruit gay people now?” That’s not what it’s all about and that’s not what we want to achieve with the network. It’s more about the little things in day-to-day working life that people don’t always think about. Like congratulating a colleague on their civil partnership ceremony, for example. Or that people should be granted a day of special leave for it. “It’s not a real wedding” is something I’ve already heard – and that’s a form of discrimination. People also need to understand for example that homosexuality is illegal in some countries.

There are many things that are a matter of course for all other employees such as bringing your spouse to company events or having a picture of your partner on your desk. And these things really need to start becoming a matter of course at work for the LGBTI community, too.

Are you seeing a change at thyssenkrupp?

We introduced ourselves as a network at this year’s thyssenkrupp Diversity Day and I observed several “light bulb moments” from colleagues there, but above all great interest. Many want to understand how they can be more considerate toward colleagues in day-to-day working life to avoid situations that are inappropriate or discriminatory. This is rarely done deliberately, but rather due to a lack of awareness. In general LGBTI issues are becoming increasingly prominent in the working world. For example, thyssenkrupp is part of the “PROUTEMPLOYER” network which represents the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual people and includes many big-name companies in Germany.

What do you hope for the future?

I hope that it doesn’t just stop at tolerance, but rather that acceptance becomes the norm in day-to-day working life and that no-one has to hide their sexual orientation or identity at work.

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