IBM Stands Strong with its LGBT Employees

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LGBT Pride Month is an opportunity for all of us to pause and consider that while progress has been made to afford equal rights to all, we still have much more work to do. That includes standing up against discriminatory legislation that has emerged in certain U.S. states and leading discussions in the aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando.

Inclusion has always been part of our corporate culture and is in alignment with our deeply-held values as IBMers. Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. IBM will continue to be a leading voice in the push for diversity and inclusion in our communities.

Our policy of inclusion goes beyond employment practices and protections and celebrates the diversity of our workforce. As a company, we understand that to attract the best talent from around the world, we have to create and nurture a culture where employees can bring their authentic selves to work every day.

For instance, when Charles Donnell was looking for a college internship in England in 2011, he applied to IBM after his research found that the company “is gay-friendly.” Donnell joined IBM UK as an intern, finished his university studies and is now a Program Manager for one of IBM’s Global Leadership Development Programs in Armonk, N.Y. At 24, he’s already worked for IBM on global programs on three continents.

“IBM enables me to identify myself as a gay male in the IBM personnel site,” said Donnell. “As an employee, I’m able to bring 100 percent of myself to work. And that has allowed me to be successful at IBM.”

Over the past year, high-profile debates over discriminatory policy measures in several U.S. states have prompted many people – some for the first time – to carefully consider the challenges facing the LGBT community. As part of our global efforts, we have worked to ensure that LGBT IBMers in every U.S. state are afforded the same rights as their colleagues.

When proposed government action has been in fundamental conflict with our values, we’ve engaged with government officials directly and publicly to make our views known, opposing various state laws and executive actions.

In rescinding his state’s discriminatory “religious freedom” order in April, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards recognized IBM’s leadership on this issue, saying, “It does nothing but divide our state and force the business community, from Louisiana’s smallest businesses to large corporations like IBM, to strongly oppose it.” At the same time, Gov. Edwards signed a new anti-discrimination executive order protecting the rights of gay and transgender residents of Louisiana.

We’ve also been part of a larger chorus of voices speaking out against inequality.

IBM joined American Express, Google and 11 other global companies in September 2015 to launch the first business-led coalition that supports LGBT inclusion around the world. And we are one of 60 leading businesses that have signed-on to the Human Rights Campaign’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act. The Act would provide, under federal law, all Americans with clear, permanent and equal protection in employment, access to public spaces, housing, credit, education, jury service, and federally funded programs.

IBM’s first Equal Opportunity policy was written in 1953, when IBM CEO T.J. Watson, Jr. famously declared, “It is the policy of this organization to hire people who have the personality, talent and background necessary to fill a given job, regardless of race, color or creed.”

We were one of the first companies to include sexual orientation as part of the policy more than 30 years ago. We extended domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees in the U.S. almost 20 years ago. Today, we provide LGBT employees with the professional and family support they need around the world. IBM’s LGBT benefits extend beyond local practices in many countries. Examples include:

  • IBM Canada extended its employee health benefit plan in January to include coverage for sex reassignment surgery based on the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care. This benefit has been available to employees in the U.S. for over a decade. Over the next few years, we expect to introduce the sex reassignment surgery benefit in other countries where local laws, medical practices and facilities support the treatment.
  • In addition to existing countries, we have recently added medical and leave benefits for same-gender partners of employees in Greece, Chile, the Philippines, Italy and Japan. We plan to announce similar programs for employees in other countries later this year.
  • A new global program, called “Out Role Models,” features LGBT employees as role models in growth countries, including Brazil, Greece, Israel, the Czech Republic, China, Japan, Mexico and India.
  • IBMers that are part of the Business and Technical Leadership program – our leading succession planning program – now have the ability to identify themselves as LGBT employees.

But even as we talk about the many steps forward, we realize that we as a global society have a long way to go. IBMers are incredibly proud of our company’s long-standing commitment to equality. We will continue promoting and defending LGBT rights around the world. And we will also continue to foster and grow a shared corporate culture in which global diversity – including diversity of thought – remains central to our company and its values.

Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, IBM

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