How authentic representation strengthens a true sense of belonging
Belonging is a fundamental human need that we all share - regardless of sexual orientation, gender, religion, or origin. Realistic representation and participation in society, business, politics, and the media play a significant role in creating a sense of true belonging. For Pride Month 2021, we look at the representation and inclusion of the LGBTQIA community at thyssenkrupp.
In a conversation with Jan Rohde, Junior Expert Employer Branding thyssenkrupp AG, and Alexander Trumm, Digital Implementation Manager thyssenkrupp Plastics, we talked about the representation of the LGBTQIA community within the thyssenkrupp group and why we need more authentic representation in society as a whole.
The importance of authentic representation
Representation - Why is it important for the LGBTQIA community?
"You grow up in a world where 'gay' is still considered an insult and only through visibility, awareness and representation, can we educate future generations to abandon prejudice once and for all," says Jan Rohde, Junior Expert Employer Branding thyssenkrupp AG.
Many people in the LGBTQIA community still feel they cannot live their identity openly and freely. As a result, a lot of energy is spent on hiding their sexual orientation. They fear possible consequences, such as losing their job or being rejected by friends, family, and colleagues. Hiding one’s true self is a situation that entails great psychological stress. That is why we at thyssenkrupp take a clear stand against prejudice. The debate about representation must continue as long as every single person feels able to express themselves.
“You are gay?!“
"It would be nice if at some point it became the norm that there are people with different sexual orientations in our society and the whole thing was no longer an issue or a topic of discussion," Rohde said. "But as long as people are still being discriminated against, there's a need to advocate for LGBTQIA communities and their representation."
Alexander Trumm, Digital Implementation Manager thyssenkrupp Plastics, also sees a need for further education: "I think a good indicator that there is no full acceptance in our society yet is the moment of brief or embarrassed pause when you talk about your partner and the other person realizes that you are not a heterosexual man after all, as perhaps assumed. The fact that this information still throws many people off for a moment shows the need for further education."
The thyssenkrupp LGBTQIA network
Numerous colleagues at thyssenkrupp create authentic representation and inclusion of the LGBTQIA community in various formats. For example, the thyssenkrupp LGBTQIA network, which was created through the commitment of a handful of colleagues.
It all started with a desire for an informal lunch to share ideas within the LGBTQIA community. Then the idea was put into action. The initiators went out and invited colleagues who were interested or could be part of the community. In the beginning, the network consisted of only six to seven people who met regularly for lunch without an official agenda and shared common experiences. But soon more colleagues decided to join.
Regulars' tables and open dialogs
Chief Human Resources Officer Oliver Burkhard showed interest in the LGBTQIA regulars' table. A joint meeting gave the previously informal group a more formal structure. The members of the network and the Chief Human Resources Officer talked about the wishes and goals of the community and how events such as Christopher Street Day could create visibility at a higher level. For example, to meet with non-members of the LGBTQIA community, celebrate together, and break down prejudices.
"Knowing that the Board of Management is behind us is a great feeling and a positive driver for the entire corporate culture," explains Jan Rohde. "All employees felt that they had been officially picked up and were part of a common self-image: "These are our values and this is what we stand for," adds Alexander Trumm. "The confirmation from top management leaves less room for gray areas when it comes to discrimination or the like.“
The network grows
Thanks to the support of the HR director, the network gained visibility - also in the various segments of the corporate group.
"The e-mail distribution list with news about events and lunch meetings has grown considerably," says Jan Rohde. "In the beginning, there were six regular participants, but today there are around 100." Above all, employees outside the headquarters were reached in this way, reports Alexander Trumm: "Through the exchange with Oliver Burkhard, employees outside the headquarters, such as myself, also found out about the network and were able to join in.“
Representation in the workplace protects employees
The colleagues agree that adequate representation in the workplace is important because it protects employees. "This makes it clear to intolerant people that they cannot act out their resentments in the workplace through bullying, etc.," says Rohde.
"In addition, it would be desirable if sexual orientation were not an issue in the professional context," said Alexander Trumm. "After all, it is not with heterosexuals. The same respect for our privacy is what we would like to see."
In terms of society as a whole, however, there is still a long way to go. With an inclusive and open culture in the workplace, thyssenkrupp wants to contribute to LGBTQIA becoming normal not only in the Group but also in society. This requires commitment from all sides: Even heterosexual employees can position themselves as straight allies and support inclusive and tolerant coexistence.
Bias: All gay men are eccentric birds of paradise
The goal: to reduce prejudices and create an atmosphere in which not the one who comes out gets problems, but the one who behaves intolerantly. "I often get to hear: "I wouldn't have thought you were gay," Alexander Trumm tells me. "That's when I realize that a very specific image of gay men still exists."
Jan Rohde is also familiar with such prejudices: "Among other things, this stems from a one-sided representation in the media. There, people with LGBTQIA backgrounds are almost exclusively portrayed as flashy birds of paradise. However, it was never an issue for me at work, and I think that's mainly due to the culture of dialog at thyssenkrupp."
Awareness creates mindfulness
No room given to intolerance: In workshops such as the thyssenkrupp JFA conference for apprentices, members of the LGBTQIA network and numerous straight allies are active in creating culture. Among other things, homophobia in every day and youth language is addressed. From swear words to casual sayings like, "Oh, that's gay," there is a lot of conscious and unconscious homophobia in our language. Just thinking about it and being aware of it helps. Only through understanding and empathy can prejudice be reduced.
This empathy must not stop in the boardroom. That is why thyssenkrupp also has clear Leadership Competency Frameworks for managers, which communicate the values and self-image for cooperation throughout the Group.
However, this representation does not mean that LGBTQIA describes a segregated community. It takes all employees to create a culture where everyone feels comfortable and adequately represented. Anyone who would like to be part of the network, whether as a member of the LGBTQIA community or Straight Ally can join the network distribution list as a thyssenkrupp employee. You will find all the necessary information here.
DISCLAIMER: All attendance events referenced in this paper occurred before the COVID-19 outbreak.