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Last week, representatives of the newly established "be.queer" employee network met at the Corporate Center in Gütersloh by invitation of Bertelsmann CHRO Immanuel Hermreck. "be.queer" is Bertelsmann's first cross-divisional employee network that explicitly seeks to promote an open working environment for all employees - regardless of their sexual identity and orientation. Hermreck welcomed the founding of the network saying, "I’m pleased to see this initiative come from within the company and am happy to support it."
The word "queer" stands for any sexual identity or orientation that deviates from heterosexuality, which is experienced as the norm. It is used interchangeably with the acronym LGBT/LGBTIQ, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersexual, queer. At last week’s meeting at the Corporate Center, participants discussed "being queer" at Bertelsmann, and the network’s objectives. Topics also included the role of sexual identity and orientation in working life, and what value-add the network might create for Bertelsmann.
In the day-to-day working life of "queer" people there are often situations that heterosexual employees don’t even have to think about, such as business trips to countries where LGBTIQ people face the threat of harassment. This also includes invitations to official company events or private evenings out with colleagues. Should LGBTIQ employees bring their same-sex partners to Bertelsmann events? Or should they come alone so as not to attract attention? Immanuel Hermreck makes it clear: "As an employer, we have the responsibility to create a climate of mutual respect and trust at our company. Therefore, the sexual orientation and identity of our colleagues should not be taboo. Employees who feel welcome and valued will be able to fully contribute to the success of Bertelsmann, with all their energy."
Bertelsmann's Germany-wide "be.queer" network was initiated by representatives from RTL Group, Gruner + Jahr, BMG, the Corporate Center, Arvato, the Bertelsmann Printing Group and Verlagsgruppe Random House. At "be.queer," employees get together and discuss their very different experiences of day-to-day work at Bertelsmann. "This is not about getting special treatment," explains Carsten Schicker, Senior Vice President of Corporate Controlling and Strategy at Bertelsmann. "We want to initiate a dialog on the topic of LGBTIQ within the Group, and dismantle any worries and fears there may be on either side. This is why we are keen to expand the network quickly, so as to enable as broad and varied an exchange as possible."
"be.queer" also seeks to contribute to Bertelsmann’s appeal as an employer and business partner. "Many studies show that an LGBTIQ-friendly corporate culture strengthens employee satisfaction, motivation and loyalty overall," says Lars Fröhlich, Assistant to the Head of Customer Management at Verlagsgruppe Random House, and a founding member of "be.queer." "Our activities make a positive contribution to Bertelsmann's corporate culture."
To learn from other companies and provide relevant seminar offerings, Bertelsmann has joined the Prout at Work Foundation’s network. The foundation was established in 2013 and currently supports LGBTIQ networks at 21 international companies. By including the "Prout Employer" logo on the Bertelsmann homepage and the division’s websites, Bertelsmann demonstrates its commitment to greater diversity to the outside as well.
The meeting with Immanuel Hermreck marked the official launch of "be.queer." The network is open to new members in order to expand on as many levels as possible in the company. Activities such as local meet-ups, participation in "Christopher Street Days," and support at careers events are envisaged.
There are already contacts in all divisions:
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Incidentally, today, May 17, is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. It 1990 did the World Health Organization (WHO) remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. The acceptance of homosexuals, bi- and transsexuals has since improved in many regions of the world. But even today, there are still countries and situations in which people with a different sexual orientation than that which is perceived as a heterosexual norm are discriminated against, persecuted and drastically punished. Many steps are necessary to make coexistence and cooperation the norm all over the world – including at companies.