Frankfurt, 13 September 2018 –
“Courageous.” That’s the word that leaps to mind when listening to Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice President Public Policy and board member at global consulting firm EY (Ernst & Young), during a fireside chat with PROUT AT WORK chairperson Albert Kehrer.
For the third time in a row now, senior executives of major German and international commercial enterprises and institutions had accepted the invitation of the PROUT AT WORK network and come to the financial metropolis of Frankfurt. In a casual atmosphere, they exchanged their views about opportunities and pathways to a more open, diverse and discrimination-free workplace at the DINNER BEYOND BUSINESS over a first-class meal.
Among them were representatives of Continental, BASF, Vattenfall, Coca Cola, Thyssenkrupp, the European Central Bank and SAP.
This year, they managed to bring Beth Brooke-Marciniak on board as a keynote speaker and, framed by the spectacular view from Germany’s tallest skyscraper, engage one of the 100 most influential women in the world in an informal personal conversation that allowed for many perceptive insights and powerful statements.
Role models – “If not me, who?”
As Beth Brooke-Marciniak relates how she had not been open about her sexual orientation for most of her life, the audience in the room are quietly thinking, “Pretty courageous.”
For in February 2011, Brooke-Marciniak participated in the “It Gets Better” video campaign that aims to encourage LGBT*IQ teenagers, and spontaneously decided to come out as a lesbian woman in front of the rolling camera.
“What would I say in this video if I was being truly honest,” she had asked herself the previous evening. “I had a message to deliver that I knew was important.”
She and her then-partner had both assumed that coming out would mean the end of her career. However, the reactions to her sensational openness were the exact opposite. “My life changed for the better; from black/white to colourful in an instant. After 52 years.”
But not just that. Her candour also changed how the business world thinks about diversity.
“Our executive level was very proud of me, I received calls and e-mails from young people and their parents and even standing ovations at a subsequent public appearance, which moved me to tears.”
With her spontaneous coming out, she had changed more in one moment than ever before in her life, role model Brooke-Marciniak explains. “I considered it my job and my duty. Who was supposed to do it if not me?”
Business case – “The market imperative”
Introducing the second topic of this year’s dinner talk, Albert Kehrer suggests that attracting the best talent is one aspect of the business-case perspective on creating an LGBT*IQ-positive working environment, and the EY executive adds: “It’s about the market imperative. We need to be as diverse as our customers are. Whether it concerns functionality, quality or innovation – that way, we’re better everywhere.”
Kehrer mentions that the difficulty of assessing the effects of measures that address the concerns of lesbian, gay and transgender people within a business presents a significant hurdle.
“I know,” Brooke-Marciniak replies, “in most countries, it’s not possible to identify as LGBT*IQ within a corporation.” She adds that this makes it difficult to evaluate the effect of an LGBT*IQ-positive corporate policy. “But it doesn’t matter. Because we know it’s an added value.”
Having said that, she believes that forgoing such policies because their value is not quantifiable is just an excuse.
In response to Kehrer’s pointed question whether LGBT*IQ issues should really be given such high priority within corporations, Brooke-Marciniak again responds decisively: “Studies show that corporations that focus on the importance of LGBT*IQ employees are also well positioned with regards to all other aspects of inclusion and diversity, for example in promoting women.”
Allies – “Changing the world, providing safety”
Darkness has fallen, and against the background of the lights of the Frankfurt skyline, Kehrer opens the last third of the fireside chat with the question of why it’s important for a corporation to be an LBGT*IQ ally. After all, in Great Britain as well as in the US, EY specifically supports this group of employees.
“Because we have values,” Brooke-Marciniak replies without hesitation. “All of us are active across the globe. But we have no influence on the laws of individual countries. Many of them are going in the wrong direction, even backwards, and populism is spreading. Our footprints can change the world.”
In response to Kehrer’s question how individuals in corporations can become allies of their LGBT*IQ colleagues, EY board member Brooke-Marciniak points out a host of options for getting involved: being curious and unafraid, for example. After all, she says, it’s not always about specific lesbian-gay-trans* issues but about a fundamental understanding. “One day, it could affect you, too.”
She adds that just recently, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, she had a private chat with a grateful CEO whose daughter came out as homosexual only a short while ago. Having discussed the issue previously had helped him immensely in this situation.
And, she adds, there’s also the “Wow, even him” effect when top management personalities publicly declare themselves allies of LGBT*IQ people within their corporations, facilitating a significant increase in visibility for those employees that HR departments or LGBT*IQ groups themselves could not achieve in this form.
Another important point, she says, is signalling to employees who have come out that you’re ready to help, giving them time but being at their side if needed. “Some people prefer to go back into their shell when they have the impression that they can’t trust their boss and aren’t sure whether his or her openness really means they’re safe.”
Accordingly, 70 percent of employees who haven’t come out leave a corporation over the short or long term, which is why it’s so important to start that conversation and find out what is still standing between them and their coming out.
“Above all, though, it’s important to be aware of conversations that should no longer take place the way they still do, and to say something, because people who haven’t come out yet will definitely take notice,” Beth Brooke-Marciniak concludes the conversation.
Fireplace-Chat with Beth Brooke-Marciniak:
Alle Fotos © Jan Patrick Margraf