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German companies increasingly ‘coming out’ with LGBTI employees

When homosexual employees of the German corporate giant Bosch first attended Christopher Street Day (CSD) in Stuttgart four years ago, the response within the company was almost entirely positive. Almost.

There were also dissenting votes in the subsequent intranet discussion among the workplace.

"That's not part of the company," some colleagues said. "That doesn't fit Bosch's image," others thought.

This Saturday, the members of the Bosch network RBgay will not only run along, but will also have their own truck at the Stuttgart CSD.

At the Berlin CSD on the same day, the colleagues of companies such as Daimler, BMW, Vodafone, Ikea or Bayer will also set sail in the massive parade on their own floats – just like occurred last week at the Munich CSD with the colleagues of Allianz.

In addition to its own parade car, the insurance company lit up the Allianz Arena in the colours of the rainbow, the symbol of the movement for equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and intersexuals (LGBTI).

"I am proud to work for a company that sets a public example for LGBTI inclusion," says Franz Vojik, spokesman of Allianz Pride, the company-wide network for employees with different sexual orientations.

Not hiding anymore

“Many colleagues still have difficulties in everyday life,” said Mathias Reimann, spokesman for the Bosch LGBTI network. "They often feel they have to hide their sexual orientation."

The typical workplace question of "What did you do this weekend?" takes on a completely new dimension, says Reimann, when someone identifies with an alternative sexual orientation.

"Shall I tell you I was out with my husband? A lot of people don't dare,” he says.

That is why it is necessary to make gay and lesbian everyday life visible – which the company has also recognized.

"RBgay contributes to our open corporate culture, in which employees can be authentic and valued – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity," explains Bosch personnel manager Christoph Kübel.

The more self-evident employees are about their sexual identity in the workplace, the higher the level of job satisfaction and solidarity with the company, according to the 2017 study, "Out in the Office?,” published by Germanys Federal Anti-Discrimination Office.

But still a third of them do not dare to talk to colleagues about it. This could be because, according to the study, three-fourths of those who are open about their sexuality have experienced some kind of discrimination in Germany.

Can a parade car at the CSD help? The Munich foundation "PrOut At Work", which works for the interests of LGBTI employees and whose founders include corporations such as Telekom, Commerzbank, SAP and Deutsche Post, believes it can to some extent,

"The real equality of people requires not only a rethinking on the legal level, but above all also on the social level," says foundation director Albert Kehrer. "The influence of large companies with their strong presence and economic power as lawyers is a clear key factor.

Conservative companies sending a signal

Especially when supposedly conservative companies show solidarity with the LGBTI community, this is a signal to society, says Kehrer.

If I saw a Bosch car at the CSD Parade, I would think: "Cool company, you could work there," explains a manager who has long since come out as a lesbian at her employer EY and thus, according to her own statement, has never experienced any problems. Still, she refrained from giving her name.

In times of acute shortages of skilled workers, she believes that the companies' commitment is logical anyway: "Companies can no longer afford to do without this group – on the contrary, they have to entice them,” she said.

Reimann, who leads a team of 300 associates at Bosch in development, has never had any problems in his career because of his sexual orientation.

But he also knows, "It depends on what kind of guy you are – and where you work in the company."

In the Bosch LGBTI network, for example, one learns that homosexual colleagues have a harder time in production where the sound is rougher than in research.

At some Bosch locations abroad, it would also be completely inconceivable to come out. "In India, for example, people would face life imprisonment there," says Reimann.

While Reimann does not think he would have luck in changing the legal situation in India, he has already achieved success in Hungary, where a gay colleague was badly abused.

After HR Director Kübel spoke up for diversity at the site and thus also for his LGBTI colleagues, Bosch-Hungary signed the company's "Diversity Charter.

"Of course, there are still many resentments in Hungary," says Reimann. "But at least now it's being discussed by the workforce."

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