Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable

Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable
Business-Minded

Why Workplace Inclusivity Works

The benefits of a working environment that’s friendly to the members of the LGBTQIA+.

Back in 2021, a man told me that he wanted to resign from a company that he “never” even worked for.

He wished to go by the name “Carl” and, after choosing this alias, he told me that he was on the payroll of a business in Metro Manila, Philippines.

“But here’s the catch,” he noted, “I never even worked there.” He went on to tell me who did: it was a man who had his name and his talents; someone who lived in his house, wore his clothes and was practically everything that he was except for one crucial trait: that man was straight.

Speaking with me via video call, Carl said that he was living his professional life in the closet and its doors were held shut by a variety of locks. For starters, there was the screensaver of his phone: an image of him getting a kiss on the cheek from one of his closest female friends. Then there were the padlocks and x’s that confronted anyone who found his highly private social media accounts. Finally, there was the self-restraint that often kept his lips together; that which urged him to say as little as possible to avoid blurting out anything that could blow his cover.

“They were necessities,” he said. And it was because of what he had to work with.

At his office, what was considered to be friendly banter among his older, mostly male colleagues was commonly laced with a lot of macho posturing and all the questionable talking points that tend to tag along with that. In meetings with his team, meanwhile, the word “bakla”—a Filipino umbrella term for queer men and transwomen—was often designated by their boss to people who show apprehension or cowardice. And then there was that one drinking session he had with his co-workers and his boss; that one night somewhere in Metro Manila when—in order for him to fit in—he loudly and derisively laughed with them when an openly gay couple passed by.

“I’m a hard worker,” he told me. “And it’s been bothering me how my efforts directly benefit people who might think less of me or treat me poorly if ever they find out that I’m gay.”

That was why he was planning to leave. “Work is technically a second home for me,” he said. “The pay here is good but I really should start looking for a place that can actually feel like home.”

The good news for people like Carl is that such places are not too scarce anymore. For years, businessowners have come to acknowledge that there are benefits to being open and inviting to people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual among others (LGBTQIA+.) In various parts of the world, there are brands that started implementing practices to be more inclusive. And they’ve been benefitting from it.

At that time, an example close to home for Carl was the business process outsourcing firm, Telus International Philippines (TIP.) Years prior to our conversation, this company became known for implementing measures that promoted diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace. And, as a result, they have had people not connected with them reaching out.

According to Ronnel Orial, who in 2021 was the co-chair of Spectrum Philippines, (TIP’s resource group for its LGBTQIA+ members,) such messages can come in the form of inquiries regarding the company’s hiring status.

“We’re attracting the best talent,” Orial told me. “In the business side, that’s what’s good about it.” Other brand can attest to this.

In 2023, the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation released a report entitled “Better Business: The Benefits of LGBTQ+ Workplace Inclusion.” In it, the group stated that many successful companies recognize the value of practices that are friendly towards members of the community. Citing the Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index report, “Better Business” states that 91% of Fortune 500 companies now have gender identity protections in their nondiscrimination policies. This highlights their recognition of the importance of an LGBTQIA+ supportive work environment. As to what its benefits are, various reports and organizations have taken turns tackling it over the years.

In “Better Business” for instance, it is stated that companies with practices that are friendly towards the LGBTQIA+ tend to reap rewards in the form of increased profitability and market valuation. Furthermore, the report stated that more inclusive companies record productivity levels that are about 3 percent higher than that of their less welcoming counterparts. Also, those who belong in the former are more likely to attract and retain talent than those who belong in the latter.

In a nutshell, this is because of inclusivity’s capacity to help in fostering a less toxic working environment. Essentially, it prevents companies from losing or turning off people by alienating them based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC.)

According to GLAAD, the LGBTQIA+ non-profit group, this is important for the workplace performance of employees who are members of the community. They discussed this in 2015. That year, a piece was written for the group by Michaela Krejcova. In it, she declared that “LGBT employees who spend a considerable time and effort hiding their identity in the workplace, experience higher levels of stress and anxiety resulting in health problems and work-related complaints.” “Therefore,” she concluded, “[an] LGBT friendly workplace will lead to the improved health, increased job satisfaction, better relationships with co-workers and supervisors, and greater work commitment among the LGBT workers.”

This is supported by United Nations Development Program and the International Labor Organization. In 2018, the two bodies presented a report on the challenges faced by LGBTI employees in China, the Philippines and Thailand. According to this, policies protecting LGBTI employees from discrimination affect employee satisfaction and this in turn yields a number of benefits. In the same year, this was tackled by Zarin Bathena who, at that time, was Head-HR of Worldline South Asia and Middle East.

In the article she contributed to Entrepreneur India, she said that “a satisfied employee is not just a retained employee but an ambassador for the brand, internally and externally. She can help dispel the apprehensions of others and can defend the company in various fora.”

“Happy employees,” she added, “are more loyal to the company and its objectives; they go the extra mile to achieve goals and take pride in their jobs, their teams and their achievements.”

I can personally attest to this, looking back at the earlier days of my career. I’ve been an openly gay writer since I was a college student contributing to publications based in Metro Manila. But, on several occasions, especially on photoshoots that doubled as interviews, I’ve been mistaken for a photographer’s assistant, a stylist and—at least on one occasion—someone’s boyfriend “obviously trying to make up for something.”

Such presumptions were fueled mostly by how I was; I liked getting involved with work I wasn’t hired to do. Instead of simply being there to gather information I needed to write, I also helped set up cameras, took behind-the-scenes photos when needed, arranged outfits for models, and carried bags.

Was it youthful enthusiasm that drove this? Partly. But in hindsight, I realize I was also eager to help my co-workers: they who knew that I was gay but never made me feel unwelcome because of it. Instead, they befriended me, encouraged me, guided me through my awkward phase as a neophyte.

It was easy for me to be generous with what energy I had for work.

“So, you got lucky,” Carl said, after I told him my story.

Perhaps I did. But there were others who certainly didn’t.

Discrimination Discerned

The Philippines likes to present itself as a country that is friendly to the LGBTQIA+ and it has the optics to sell this idea.

We can start by looking at Vice Ganda. A queer artist, they have become one of the most influential figures in local pop culture while also being one of the highest grossing movie stars in the archipelago. Then we can look at other Filipino members of the community. Many are widely visible in various platforms in the country and a number of them also hold positions of power. From a distance, queerness does not seem to be an impediment in this nation. But this is not the view of those who constantly take an intimate look at it.

Among them is Reyna Salinas, a microbiologist, educator, political organizer and an out-and-proud transwoman. On June 21, 2021, she joined a virtual Pride event as a representative of Bahaghari, a human rights organization championing the LGBTQIA+ in her country. And, in this role, she challenged the idea of Philippine queer-friendliness.

“Right now, we know that so many LGBTs in the Philippines are losing opportunities, losing education and their lives but there’s barely any data on it,” she said. There are, however, stories that actually make enough noise to earn a space in dailies.

For example, there’s the struggle of Bunny Cadag, a genderqueer individual who back in 2017 alleged that they were discriminated against by Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC.) According to a report by Inquirer.net, Cadag was supposedly invited by Human Capitol Development (HCD) to transcribe for JFC’s three-day evaluation interview in Ortigas. But, after their first day, a representative of HCD reached out to them to say that they are no longer welcome in the JFC office.

Cadag was told that JFC was not yet welcoming of having “a transgender person” working for their company. The representative also said that the brand’s “catholic values” influenced the rejection. JFC has since apologized to Cadag over the incident (which it deemed isolated.) Nevertheless, Salinas said that stories like this often unfold in the Philippines.

Janlee Dungca thinks so as well. Currently, she is the Managing Directress of Castro & Associates Public Relations Corporation. But, back in 2021, Dungca was a representative of LoveYourself Inc., an organization that seeks to build empowered communities by building and strengthening the self-worth of individuals. In this capacity, she spoke about the level of discrimination faced by members of the trans community which she is also part of.

“Corporations would hire gay men but not transwomen because for them, transwomen are cross dressing,” she said. “[They believe transwomen are] not formal, unprofessional because of the way they present themselves which is actually a form of discrimination because trans women are women. You cannot say that they’re cross dressing because they are women expressing themselves in a feminine way.”

Outside the Philippines, many cases of discrimination against members of the queer community occur and among the most talked about in recent years was that of Aimee Stephens, a trans funeral director in Detroit, Michigan. 

In 2013, Stephens was reportedly fired from her job at Garden City’s R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home after she announced that she would wear appropriate women’s business attire at work. She then started a legal case invoking the protection provided for her by US law, specifically Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was meant to protect “employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”

The owner of funeral home responded. He said that he isn’t discriminating against her because he is requiring all of his employees to dress based on the gender they were “biologically assigned” at birth. The Supreme Court, however, sided with Stephens.

It’s cases like this that urge various parties to lobby for different iterations of an anti-discrimination law. And while not all of them succeed, there are ways by which private citizens can assist the queer community especially in the workplace.

The Work to be Done

Before the end of our video call, Carl told me about his plans for the future. He said that he had already gotten recommendations from friends and is currently planning to send his application to various organizations.

“I think it might take a while before they get back to me,” he said. “The job market isn’t really good right now.” This was because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philippine government imposed various restrictions on local businesses to curb the spread of the virus and this caused an economic downturn that hampered the hiring capacity of many organizations.

Still, his resume was updated and various companies will be made known of his desire to transfer to them because, “this pandemic is stressful enough,” he said. “I need to be working in a place that isn’t.”

This is something that TIP has been trying to be. For years, the firm has been attempting to improve its working environment by introducing a number of changes. For members of the LGBTQIA+, these entail several measures meant to make them feel welcome, valued and valid.

“We’ve rolled out a lot of initiatives,” Orial told me through a virtual interview. “For example… we actually recognize same-sex couples to be included in our HMO.” Aside from this, TIP also rolled-out self-identified restrooms for self-identified males and females as well as gender neutral restrooms. “Our sleeping quarters are also self-identified,” he added.

Furthermore, the company also continues to pursue discussions on LGBTQIA+ related topics among their employees, something they did in June 2021 in celebration of Pride Month. They invited Dungca to talk about SOGIESC and the forms of discrimination people may suffer because of it. She also discussed how people can be better allies to the members of the community.

“They’re small steps but it’s moving forward to the right direction,” Orial said. There are those who seem to think so as well. According to him various organizations have been reaching out to Spectrum so they can improve their own policies in relation to the LGBTQIA+. Orial even said that some of these bodies represented their competitors in the call center industry.

Across the Pacific, meanwhile, various companies try to enact their own queer-friendly policies. Some of them were mentioned in “Better Business.” Novant Health, for instance, is an integrated network of clinics and it currently provides education across its 800 locations; this includes 15 hospitals and hundreds of outpatient facilities. It also covers the clinics of physicians in North Carolina. This is done so the brand can deliver inclusive care for members of the LGBTQIA+.

Meanwhile, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont has developed a diversity and inclusion program meant to create an inclusive workplace. This covers diverse healthcare options for members of the community on its payroll and measures that can accommodate employees who have undergone gender transition.

“That’s why I’m optimistic,” Carl told me. “When you don’t alienate others just because of how they prefer to present themselves or who they want to sleep with, you don’t alienate the good they can bring you. That gives companies an edge and many don’t want to get left behind.”

He then paused to adjust his camera and his eyes shot upward. For a moment, it seemed that he was considering what he just said. “Maybe their reason for championing equality isn’t entirely selfless—if it even is,” he said. “But that still brings a welcome change for people like me.”

Years after this video call, I got to talk to Carl again. During this catch-up, the world was no longer restrained by a pandemic and the limitations brought on by it—like physical distancing–were no longer in effect. Still, we had to communicate virtually because his schedule didn’t permit a face-to-face meet-up.

“Quite busy these days,” he said, clarifying later that work takes up a lot of his time.

Apparently, in 2021 he resigned from the company he was complaining about and moved on to a firm where people were more considerate, forward-thinking and unprejudiced. It had an environment that made him feel safe enough to eventually come out to his co-workers and actually befriend them. It’s not perfect, he said, but he currently sees himself sticking with this company for a long time.

“I got promoted late last year,” he told me proudly. “That means more work.” But he added that he doesn’t mind this development. “It suits me,” he said and I recall nodding.

He did tell me beforehand that he is a hard worker. And in his current job, it’s easy for him to be himself.

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