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The LGBT+ community journeys

The Willis Towers Watson perspectives in the DACH countries

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By Guillaume Pache | June 11, 2021

Willis Towers Watson is committed to create a workplace where employees can be truly themselves without fear of judgment.

The rights of the LGBT+ community are nowadays getting bigger and bigger but unfortunately, in too many countries being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex is still synonymous of discrimination and sense of unfairness. People are still being arrested, persecuted and jailed just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in many countries in the world. This is not only because of some homophobic people but in a lot of countries governments are clearly showing their homophobia and encouraging such hate towards this community.

As you can see on a map of the ILGA World (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), same sex orientation is still a crime in 70 countries and people can even be sentenced to death in 11 countries (for example Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen). Even if some of these countries are not enforcing their laws, just the fact that they have not abolished them procures fear and unprotection. How would you feel free and supported if your life is threatened, or if you are a victim of homophobia in such countries?

In many other countries, even when the law clearly states equal rights regardless of sexual orientation, the mindset can still be perceived as hostile in some environments/communities. In 2020, we had some significant improvements in the DACH region for the LGBT+ community. Indeed, the Swiss parliament adopted a law to legalize same-sex marriage and the Swiss citizens have accepted a law to punish any homophobia acts. Switzerland was quite late on these two topics compared to other European neighbors and was pointed out by some NGOs for their nonprogressive politics. Unfortunately, a conservative group tallied enough signatures to force the issue to a referendum on same sex marriage. Switzerland will have to vote on it.

Even if rights are progressing in a lot of countries, some of them are simply regressing on the topic and new laws against the LGBT+ community are getting voted by new governments such as in Poland, Russia, Brazil, etc. These laws are unfortunately giving room for inequality, intolerance and even, in some cases, the hate, and some people are getting bullied or attacked. With these politics, initiators of such laws hope to mute the LGBT+ community but it is often the reverse that is happening and nowadays we see more and more LGBT+ defenders including straight people in the streets or on the social medias making their voices count.

Willis Towers Watson is committed to create a workplace where employees can be truly themselves without fear of judgment. The Inclusion & Diversity network is an important program for Willis Towers Watson to promote respect and tolerance with many activities such as conferences, articles, videos, prides participation, workshop, and so on.

Indeed, being able to bring your whole self to work is not only important for your wellbeing, but it also has a real impact on Willis Towers Watson's performance. Many LGBT+ colleagues find it difficult to be themselves at work. Willis Towers Watson wants to ensure to provide an environment where everyone feels comfortable and welcome, and where they can truly be themselves to give their best. As recent studies show (ex. Inclusion Institute; Morgan Stanley HERS Report) having a diverse team and diverse leaders dramatically increases innovation and success.

While working at Willis Towers Watson, LGBT+ community will be supported and defended in any case by the management: it’s just part of the Willis Towers Watson culture. The company will not accept any act of homophobia and will react immediately in such cases. Offices are safe places for everyone, but how is it when you leave your safe area and live in a country where LGBT+ rights are unfortunately not as recognized as in the DACH region?

Let’s hear from Mark Dela Cruz, our colleague’s experience in the Philippines.

Did you feel welcome at Willis Towers Watson without hiding who you truly are? Or you decided to not talk openly about this topic at the beginning? Or not at all?

Mark Dela Cruz: Well, just to put a bit of a cultural context on the situation here in the Philippines, I would say that the LGBT+ community is far from being accepted, but we are tolerated. We can coexist and express ourselves freely, but no laws are currently protecting us.

When I joined Willis Towers Watson I knew that there were a lot of policies in place and that Willis Towers Watson was an equal opportunity employer. I saw that in the job description and on the materials. Being a global company, we can leverage from the policy standards from other countries where LGBT+ community is more accepted. As there are quite a lot of global companies in the Philippines, this is a good thing for the community and an opportunity to have a career. Thanks to this I didn’t feel that I had to talk especially about my sexual orientation or to hide it.

Do you feel safe and supported by the management?

Mark Dela Cruz: Yes I do and back in 2017 when Willis Towers Watson launched the LGBT+ network in the Philippines to support the community, the leadership was pushing to create such a network and allow everyone to be themself at Willis Towers Watson. Even if there are policies in place of course you will still have some people that will have a different way of thinking and unfortunately you cannot change them. But at least the management is there and we are heard and being supported in any cases. I have personally never heard any complaints from any colleagues, but we have the right channel to report such cases to HR, to our managers and we have the Inclusion and Diversity network.

Is this experience different from your previous employers?

Mark Dela Cruz: Just to give a context again, in Manila there are a lot of outsourcing business processes for big companies coming from the USA, the UK, Western Europe, etc. Those are a big part of our workforce in the Philippines and a huge part of the junior employees are working in such companies.

These kinds of companies are really pushing for inclusion and diversity by nature as they are working remotely from more progressive countries where this topic is important. Nevertheless, not every multinational company is promoting separately many networks as Willis Towers Watson is doing it (such as women, LGBT+, etc)

However, for a lot of local companies I&D is not a topic at all and they are unfortunately not promoting this.

So depending if you are working for a national or a multinational company you will have a different experience at work.

What is still left to improve in terms of inclusion and diversity culture at Willis Towers Watson?

Mark Dela Cruz: I think we are continuously improving. I don't think there should be any immediate action that Willis Towers Watson needs to take on top of what we are already doing but of course, we are still far from perfect.

Until 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of the LBGT+ network activities were very social to make the community be visible to the colleagues. Activities such as game nights, social gatherings, gay pride attending were organized throughout the year. I guess the “next-level” would be to have less of the social activities and have more sustainable programs that would benefit colleagues in terms of career progression, compensation and benefits (to have the same benefits as our straight and married colleagues) as well as facilities to ensure a positive experience for all.

The office has currently no “gender-neutral” toilets or changing room and this is something that should be considered for our transgender colleagues to make them feel more comfortable.

How is it when you leave the office, do feel you have to “wear a mask” in everyday life to be secure? How do you manage to have “2 lives”, a professional and a private one?

Mark Dela Cruz: Actually, I can express myself more freely when I am outside of the office. Indeed, as I have a client facing position I must “straighten” a bit myself in front of the clients to sound credible, serious, smart and to fit with the culture of the Philippines. You know there is a stereotype in the Philippines that if you are a gay guy you are only good for comedy, lifestyle and funny stuff.

When I leave the office, I can be truly whoever I want to be and I have never had any troubles outside. Of course, we don’t show any affection in public, but this is a cultural thing for everyone in the country.

As I said before, LGBT+ community is tolerated in the Philippines but not really accepted so the experience with your colleagues is quite different from the experience with your clients. You never know how if your client has a traditional way of thinking and how s/he can react in front of the LGBT+ community.

Considering this, would you say that a transgender person would have some difficulties on the job market?

Mark Dela Cruz: This is my personal opinion, but I would say this is more difficult for them to succeed in a client facing position. Of course, they can find a back-office position without any problems. For example, I know that we have transgenders colleagues in the back office, but I think that this is not as prevalent in client facing departments. This is not a company problem as Willis Towers Watson is promoting Inclusion & Diversity intensively, but this is more a “how would a traditional thinking client react in front of a transgender?” I think for a lot of people in the Philippines just the appearance is distracting for them.

Have you seen any improvements for the LGBT+ rights in your country and how?

Mark Dela Cruz: Currently the government is working on a law to protect everyone (not only the LGBT+ community) against any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity expression, etc. This law would be a big step for the community and would allow us to be legally protected.

The law has currently been stopped by the Senate because not all senators are supporting it and there are definitely some conflicts between the pro and the cons. One thing you should not forget about the Philippine context: we are a very big Catholic country and a lot of lawmakers and senators are religious. So many people are following what they say to follow the bible.

What is the LGBT+ support initiative that had the greatest impact at Willis Towers Watson?

Mark Dela Cruz: Last year the LGBT+ network conducted learning sessions about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and in my opinion, this had a great impact. The aim of the sessions was to educate people on the meaning of these terms and explain them the differences. The feedbacks were really good.

Indeed, in the Philippines there is a lack of education on the topic and people are not aware that sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same. For instance, there is only one word to describe a gay man and a transgender woman in the society, the word Bakla is used both ways. For a lot of people, if you're a homosexual man this means you want to be a woman.

Willis Towers Watson has a lot of policies in place for inclusion and diversity, but this will not have the maximum impact if you don’t educate people on the topic. Such initiatives are the key of the success if you want to achieve a world without discriminations. I hope that one day we will not need any longer an Inclusion & Diversity network.

Many thanks Mark!

Author

Associate Health and Benefits

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