Commentary: Multinationals Have Role to Play in Combatting Intolerance

New York and London combined in augmented city. Getty Images

I learned of the massacre in Orlando after landing from a long flight. Stunned, heartbroken — I couldn’t find my words. I had an overwhelming sense of sadness. For the victims. For those who loved them. And concern for our more than 230,000 Ernst & Young employees around the world, many of whom are LGBTQ. Many I know personally. Others I know are there.

I knew that when I found my words, they would be authentic. That I could express openly the depth of emotion for the hatred displayed toward a vulnerable community — my community — which had now been targeted for terror. In the space of a few hours, our safe gathering spaces around the world had been ripped away. Virulent homophobia provided the bullets that killed 49 young LGBTQ people in the midst of a celebration of Gay Pride.

As this story continues to unfold, it is a profound moment. In the hours after the massacre, I listened to reporters struggle to say L. G. B. T. Q. Always slowly and awkwardly. Sometimes transposing the letters. Describing what was going on at the club before the attack, in ways that sounded unfamiliar. Clearly unknowing, having never stepped foot into a gay bar. They struggled to find familiar family structures to interview to “produce” their traditional approach to reporting the emotion.

In the days following, I’ve witnessed a growing natural flow of “LGBTQ” off the lips of reporters growing comfortable with both the language and the subject. Hearts and minds starting to blend. People starting to better understand, and the community itself coming together. Good people around the world saying, “Enough.”

Multinationals Have a Role to Play

I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made on LGBTQ inclusion in various places, but Orlando is a glaring reminder of the work yet to be done — everywhere in the world. Not long before the massacre there was a great turnout at the Pink Dot rally for LGBTQ rights in Singapore. Some segments of the population were against the Pink Dot event, and put forward the position that foreign funding of these events by multinational companies was akin to foreign interference in local matters and should be prohibited.

This action only serves to emphasize that multinationals have an important role to play as a force for good in combatting hatred and intolerance.

But to act effectively, organizations first need to understand that to our LGBTQ employees all around the world, Orlando was a crime of hate— against them and their community. Orlando reinforces how dangerous it still can be. How excluded they can be made to feel. Closeted LGBTQ employees may be tempted to stay safely tucked into living a life of inauthenticity that is sucking the potential right out of them. And for LGBTQ employees who are open about their sexual orientation, in addition to their anger, safety and security may now be on their minds.

Given this, there has never been a more important time for companies to communicate. To reassure their employees and reaffirm their values and commitment to inclusion of all people and all differences. Many global companies already have LGBTQ employee networks in various locations. This particular moment emphasizes the importance of building and unifying those networks. As a place for LGBTQ employees and their allies to connect, share and support each other.

For Companies Wanting to Do Even More

Many companies, EY included, are on a journey to make our workplaces all that we want them to be for our employees — all of whom are different. Our Global D&I Council at EY openly discusses a wide range of issues around inclusion for all of our people, and I love how they challenge us to find ways to be even more effective in supporting our LGBTQ people.

For ideas on how to be more effective, I recommend EY’s Making it real – globally: a practical guide for advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender diversity and inclusion across global companies. In addition to some very practical steps a company can take, the study emphasizes the vital role of LGBTQ networks:

  • At the most basic level, networks help share news, information and best practices.
  • A global network brand also boosts visibility and strength. EY renamed its network “Unity” across the globe to convey solidarity, strength and cohesiveness and added the “A” to LGBTQ to convey openness to allies.
  • Networks can help LGBTQ personnel who feel isolated connect with peers, role models and allies. When closeted personnel engage with the network, they often gain the confidence to come out at work and in their private lives.
  • An effective network can be very powerful for recruiting allies: many straight people want to demonstrate their support of their LGBTQ colleagues. Seeing that there is a large number of visible allies, in turn, can make closeted people feel more comfortable about coming out.
  • Regional LGBTQ allies often need access to global resources so they can serve as a bridge to local LGBTQ personnel, especially those in the closet.
  • Network members in partnership with their organization can connect and work with other companies on this shared journey.

My Promise

We as multinational employers know we cannot control laws or cultures within any country. But we can control our workplace. To ensure everyone within our four walls around the world feels included and valued for who they are and what they can contribute. The economies of our companies are larger than many countries and collectively employ millions of people. We can use our strength to make a difference within our companies and by doing so impact the communities in which we operate.

On a personal note, I have never been more proud to be a leader at EY — and to have a platform to be openly gay and visible around the world for our people. Our workplace can help fill a void that Orlando has created in our previous sense of where it is safe to be LGBTQ. We want each and every person to feel safe and valued at EY. Surrounded by respect and valued for their differences, with the ability to innovate, laugh, sing, dance and reach their full potential as part of a team — all by being who they authentically are. And if for some reason they don’t feel that way, I promise to work to make it better.

In the words of Tony Kushner from the play Angels in America — written in response to the AIDS epidemic, but equally important in light of the massacre in Orlando:

“We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins.”

Together, we can change the world – one multinational employer at a time. Within our workplaces. And begin to have a real impact within the communities in which we operate. I promise I will never stop trying.

Beth Brooke-Marciniak is the Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young. She is also the global sponsor of EY's diversity and inclusiveness efforts and an advocate for the benefits of inclusive leadership.

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