My better half
Career at thyssenkrupp | Corporate culture | People at thyssenkrupp | Sibylle May is on the list of Germany’s Top 100 Out Executives 2019 – a list of lesbian, gay, bi-, trans- and intersexual people from German industry who are out and enjoy professional success.
Germany’s Top 100 Out Executives is a joint project by the Prout at Work Foundation and Uhlala GmbH, which aims to promote LGBTI+ people as successful role models. Sibylle May, who has a degree in electrical/industrial engineering, has been with the thyssenkrupp Group since 2002. Following various positions, she has been responsible for Standards at Shared Services HR at thyssenkrupp Business Services GmbH since 2018 and is a member of the steering committee of the LGBTI network at thyssenkrupp.
Ms. May, how do you get on this list?
There are two ways – either you can nominate yourself or someone else nominates you. If you are nominated, you have to confirm that you would like to be added to the list.
Which was it in your case?
I was nominated after acting as a member of the judging panel of a contest for young LGBTI talents. Some years ago the organizer launched the first job fair for LGBTI-friendly companies and was also instrumental in initiating events to promote women in management positions. I participated in one of these events and found it incredibly inspiring. Nowhere else do you get more feedback about the impression you make. I thought it was great and so I was happy to be a member of the judging panel.
thyssenkrupp had nothing to do with the nomination?
No. But thyssenkrupp AG has been a PROUTemployer since 2016 and is therefore a big supporter in Germany.
Does it make you proud to be nominated and added to the list?
Yes, of course. But for my taste the really prominent people are still missing from the list and that’s a bad thing.
Why is that the case?
These people do business for example with Saudi Arabia and as the CFO they are worried that these countries won’t want to have anything more to do with them. Many people in international business are unwilling to be added to such lists as they fear it will harm their company. Prominent businesspeople in particular often only network in safe spaces such as the “Völklinger Kreis” or “Wirtschaftsweiber” organizations.
You were selected at number 30 in the list of Germany’s Top 100 Out Executives.
The ranking is not important to me. It’s far more important that more people in business come out and stand up for LGBTI. To put it bluntly, you often see the same people at these events. Assuming that the LGBTI group accounts for 5 to 10 percent of the population, I have to ask myself: where are they all? Even if, say, only one in a hundred executives in Germany belongs to this group, at least several thousand should have been nominated for the list – and I would then no doubt have been just an “also ran”.
Do you see yourself as a role model?
Not so much. It’s more the case that I would like to encourage others to come out and stand up for LGBTI issues.
How was your coming out at thyssenkrupp?
In the early days I always referred to “my better half” as I wasn’t sure how people around me would react. But a colleague did a great thing and made it really easy for me by simply asking how my vacation with my girlfriend was. It took a long time for it to be a matter of course for me to talk openly about my partner in my working environment, e.g. at training seminars. If you’d asked me last year whether I’d like to be added to the list, I wouldn’t have wanted to be.
It was only last year that I started to handle things differently as a result of private events and a seminar. As I said, it was a long process for me.
How high is the coming out rate at thyssenkrupp?
On our internal social business platform we.connect we have our own group, the so-called Allies. 120 employees are active here and I would say around 25 of them are “out”. Not everyone is active in the network, but that’s often also a time issue. Statistically, in our Group of >150,000 employees, the LGBTI group must number around 10,000. We have a lot of people who haven’t come out as they say it’s not a matter for the workplace. The reasons for this reticence are of course very personal.
How long has the network been in existence?
For around four years.
How does the network improve visibility and acceptance in the Group?
On Coming-Out Day or the IDAHOT we run a variety of activities, but this interview or social media posts are also important in raising awareness. We’re best known in and around Essen, but our reach in the Group could be greater to enable us to show more people that thyssenkrupp is open about the topic. And that, if someone is having difficulties at work in this regard, they can contact us.
Does the Group support the work of the network?
Very much so. Oliver Burkhard, member of the Executive Board and CHRO of thyssenkrupp AG, is a big ally and supporter of our cause. He is an active advocate and gets involved in things like CSD whenever he has the time.
What else does the network do?
We are planning our 4th appearance at CSD in Cologne with our roughly 350 Friends & Straight Allies and are hoping to enter the EuroGames 2020 in Düsseldorf recognizably as a thyssenkrupp employee team. We also want to establish regional chapters.
Is the team for the EuroGames already fixed?
No, people are still welcome to join us. For example, I personally would like to enter the dancing competition – I usually lead and I’m still seeking a partner who’d like to follow.
What is the network’s email address?
What else are you working on?
We are currently working on the transition policy, which is basically a guide for managers on how to help employees who identify as trans people during their transition.
Thank you for the interesting interview, Ms. May!