Inclusion & Diversity

Progress Begins with Pride | Creating an LGBTIQ+ Inclusive Culture

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Benjamin Montague

Author: Benjamin Montague, Manager, Advertising & Brand Experience, IBM A/NZ

Fifty years ago in the early morning of June 28th, a clash between activists and police outside the Stonewall Inn in New York started an international movement for LGBTIQ+ rights. Now, many countries mark that event with a ‘Pride’ celebration in June each year.

In Australia on June 26th, 1978, a small group of protestors came together in solidarity with activists in San Francisco who were marching against an anti-gay bill in California. That march and the first Mardi Gras led to 53 arrests. The Sydney Morning Herald published the names, occupations and addresses of all those arrested. The consequence for some included lost jobs, accommodation and family relationships.

New Zealanders too took their cues from events in the USA.  In early 1972 Gay Liberation groups sprang up in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch after the academic Ngahuia Te Awekotuku was denied a visitor visa to the USA on the grounds that she was homosexual.

Progress begins with pride

Fast-forward to today, and much progress has been made, but still, there is  more we have to do. While we achieved Marriage Equality for same-sex couples in Australia in 2017, and four years earlier in New Zealand in 2013, members of the LGBTIQ+ community still face verbal – and physical – harassment and discrimination as part of their everyday life across Australia and New Zealand.

Have you ever been harassed by strangers just for walking down the street with your partner? In my own inner Sydney suburb, drivers still feel compelled to yell obscenities out their car windows at my fiancé and I for merely holding hands in public. This, in many ways, has been a constant in my life.

About 14 years ago, I was out on a weeknight in a shopping centre in suburban Sydney with some friends. As we walked outside from the cinema complex, a group of older boys were walking towards us and proceeded to physically assault me, simply because they believed I was gay. It’s worth noting here, that at 15 years old, I certainly knew that I was different from all my friends, but I had not come to terms with the fact I was gay. Because of this one incident, I spent all of my high school and university years in a quite severe denial about my sexuality, doing everything I could to fit in with my peers.

This kind of behaviour goes some way to illustrate why Deloitte is still reporting in 2018 that as many as 83% of members of the LGBTIQ+ community, 66% of women and 45% of men’ cover’ their true identities.

It was not until I joined IBM that I finally started my own journey to self-acceptance, and began to understand the impact this denial had been having on both my physical and mental health over many years. The fact that the first person I came out to in my life was my manager at IBM speaks volumes about the culture of diversity and inclusion IBM’s leaders have built over more than 108 years. However, I appreciate that not every workplace has such progressive values or behaviours.

Victorian Pride Centre

From left to right: Hon. Martin Foley, Minister for Equality, Mental Health and Creative Industries, Jude Munro AO, Chair of the Victorian Pride Centre, David La Rose, Managing Director, IBM A/NZ, Harriet Green, Chairman and CEO, IBM Asia Pacific

From left to right: Hon. Martin Foley, Minister for Equality, Mental Health and Creative Industries, Jude Munro AO, Chair of the Victorian Pride Centre, David La Rose, Managing Director, IBM A/NZ, Harriet Green, Chairman and CEO, IBM Asia Pacific

That’s why on June 17th, I was so proud to be part of the team that announced IBM’s role as the Founding Principal Partner of the Victorian Pride Centre (VPC). As chair of IBM’s Australian & New Zealand LGBTIQ+ employee network, this was a particularly significant milestone towards our goal of creating opportunities for IBMers across Australia and New Zealand to grow their own understanding of the LGBTIQ+ community, and provide opportunities to support and give back. As David Livermore shared in his book Driven by Difference, diverse teams actually underperform homogenous teams unless the individuals have high levels of cultural intelligence and a deep mutual understanding.

The three-year partnership will see IBM contribute to the ongoing sustainability of the VPC, allowing the eight major organisations and 40 smaller community groups housed within the centre to focus on delivering their services to the community. Modelled on the San Francisco Pride Centre, the VPC will provide unprecedented access to technology, resources and shared learning opportunities – for the benefit of this and future LGBTIQ+ generations and their allies – and expects to welcome up to 500,000 visitors per year upon its projected opening in 2020.

Resources for LGBTIQ+ professionals and their allies

For more than a century, IBM has believed that diversity and inclusion are business priorities. All our leaders strive to continually lead with our values and beliefs that enable our teams to develop their potential and bring their full self to the workplace. A sense of belonging and the power of inclusion builds stronger teams, collaboration, and promotes higher performance.

This commitment is embedded in IBM’s DNA, with resources available for other businesses and individuals who are looking to build a more LGBTIQ+ inclusive culture also, particularly:

  1. Development and distribution of ‘Becoming an LGBTIQ+ Ally’ course to engage your entire workforce in breaking down barriers to inclusion
  2. Best practice study documented on ‘Gender transition in the global workplace’ to consolidate IBM’s own experiences as learnings for other organisations
  3. Guidance on ‘Getting LGBTIQ+ inclusion right in employee surveys

Why is IBM doing all this? I think our former CEO, Thomas Watson Snr (1914-1956), summed it up best when he stated: “We are standing together, shoulder to shoulder, all working for one common good. And the good of each of us as individuals affects the greater good of the company.”

I think you will agree that this same sentiment also extends across our broader society. Progress begins with pride.

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