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On November 20, 2014, the IE Business School brought together international diplomacy, human rights activists, universities and corporations like SAP to talk about LGBT Diversity at the Workplace for the 8th edition of the event LGBT@Work in Madrid, Spain.

Can all these different groups really come together to discuss about the LGBT community at the workplace? Of course, we can!

If you would like to have a first-hand view of the event from the organizers, you can have a look at this blog post in Campus Life and the pictures. Besides you can see the video prepared by gayles.tv.

In case you are not familiar with it, the IE Business School was founded in Madrid, Spain, in 1973 and shows up in many rankings as one of the top 5 Business Schools and MBA programs worldwide. Back in 2007 a group of IE students decided to create ieOut, a LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) group of both IE students and alumni. That year, in the weekend when Madrid was hosting the Europride celebrations, the first LGBT@Work even was held with sponsoring and support of organizations like IBM, Google and idealista.com.

What was my role in this year’s event? I had the honor to be one of the panelists to introduce the work that SAP and the LGBT employee network, Pride@SAP, in order to achieve normalization of LGBT Diversity in the workplace. The presentation included a mix of information going from the Business Case for LGBT Diversity and the outcome of the Think Tank hosted by SAP as Best Practices for its Normalization, to very concrete examples like the participation of SAP with the video for the It Gets Better project with the SAP events about it, the work of SAP in the Transgender area with the release of Gender Transition Guidelines, the cooperation with the “Trans* at Work” project of the Berlin Senate, and hosting the photo exhibition about Transsexuality at the Workplace in different SAP locations. I also included some of the activities of SAP and Pride@SAP in Spain, but I will write about this a bit later.

What was one of the main highlights of this event?

With no doubt the opening’s special guest: the US Ambassador to Spain, James Costos. He is one of the openly gay ambassadors nominated by U.S President Obama and, since he moved to Spain, the U.S. Embassy has become a true supporter of LGBT related activities. To give you another recent example, supporting the launch of the Spanish chapter of the It Gets Better project.

Another key participant coming from the U.S. that I would highlight was Beck Bailey, Deputy Director for Employee Engagement of the Human Rights Campaign, the area of the NGO that produces the Corporate Equality Index. The CEI is the benchmarking tool in the U.S. on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. Beck shared in his presentation the amazing work that HRC does to improve the situation of the LGBT employees in the American workplaces and announced the launching of the CEI 2015 the previous day. SAP had also published a press release the day before the event about achieving again a perfect score in the 2015 Index.

But here is something that came to my attention about the current situation in Spain:

On one side, both Ambassador Costos and Beck Bailey spoke about Spain being a world leader for Human Rights for the LGBT community, highlighting the fact that a survey of the Pew Research Center shows the Spanish population as the most accepting of homosexuality, with 88% of the population supporting this acceptance and only 11% against it.

But looking at all the work that has been done in the US in the last years by organizations like the HRC, it highlights the early stages of the Spanish LGBT community on a corporate level.

Margarita Alonso, Director of the IE Foundation and one of the key supporters of ieOut during its creation from the IE Business School management team moderated the panel discussion delivering also her own presentation. As an expert on Corporate Diversity, Margarita explained why companies in Spain should include LGBT Diversity in their agendas, elaborating also on the Business Case for Diversity and the effect on talent attaction and retention and the increase of employee productivity and creativity.

In my presentation I could share the type of activities that SAP is doing in Spain with the LGBT community. On one side the internal activities to raise awareness. Examples are communications to the whole SAP workforce in Spain during the LGBT Pride month in June or hosting a session about Diversity during the SAP People Week in October (with Margarita Alonso also participating as an external expert) where LGBT was one of the key topics, together with Gender and Generational Diversity. And on the other side, external activities like supporting the launch of the professional network for lesbians, Lesworking, or an interview with gayles.tv to showcase Best Practices.

Is SAP the only company doing activities in the area of LGBT Diversity in Spain? Of course not! Here are some other examples: IBM has been engaged with the LGBT community since their Spanish employee network (EAGLE) was created 10 years ago, Google has been present in the Madrid LGBT Pride for many years with their network, the gayglers, Accenture also has a very active employee network and the Deutsche Bank launched recently the Spanish group of their own LGBT employee network, DB Pride.

However, I cannot help but think of the Blog post of Uxío Malvido, about how Spanish large corporations position themselves publicly about Diversity.

Uxío is one of the references of Corporate Diversity from Spain, founding member of ieOut and also one of the alumni of the IE Business School. His blog post highlights the very limited work around Diversity from these companies and the non-existent visibility of any work focusing on the LGBT community.

At least in Spain.

There is a very interesting case of activities abroad: Telefónica. Telefónica O2 in the UK has got a great video in the area of recruitment of their corporate site including testimonials from an openly gay employee. And due to my own participation with SAP in the Sticks and Stones recruitment fair in Berlin for the LGBT and straight community, I am also aware of the amazing presence of Telefónica O2 Germany there.

Summarizing: LGBT employees in the Spanish branches of international companies with strong Diversity policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity do get organized, create employee resource groups and get engaged in external activities with their community. And even Spanish corporations operating in countries where the LGBT Diversity focus is a business standard, do support these activities abroad.

What is the issue in Spain with an acceptance of homosexuality of 88%? How large is the percentage of the LGBT Spanish employees that do not dare to come out at work because they perceive their work environment as very conservative and believe this could have a negative effect on their careers? Unfortunately, we lack this type of survey results or LGBT-related business benchmarking.

Maybe it is the time for the LGBT community and the companies in Spain to focus on sexual orientation and gender identity as a key part of Diversity and Inclusion and drive this topic further. You can count on the involvement of Pride@SAP for this!

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