Firms should tailor LGBT strategies according to country

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Speakers at HR Tech World discussed pragmatism in implementing LGBT policies abroad

Multinational firms should tailor their LGBT strategies to the countries they operate in, according to Barbara Levéel, global head of diversity and HR CSR for BNP Paribas.

Speaking at the HR Tech World congress in London, Levéel explained that legal and cultural differences across the globe make a blanket policy impossible. "In some parts of Africa and the Middle East homosexuality is forbidden," she said. "When individuals want to change their gender in some places surgery is needed for that to be legally recognised. That can make things much more complicated."

Levéel said the firm experienced backlash in France over the signing of a charter promising equal rights for LGBT staff. "We had 12,000 inflammatory emails," she said. "They were sent both by clients and non-clients. We saw violent leaflets at some branches, and I got attacked on social media. We did finally sign that charter, and I feel it was a historic moment for the bank."

She added that it is important to keep fighting for the rights of LGBT employees. "It's not just that there is a good business case for LGBT equality," she said. "This is a human rights issue. You want your employees to feel able to be themselves at work, and feel proud to work for an inclusive employer."

Pamela Hutchinson, head of diversity and inclusion EMEA for Bloomburg, said that it is important to have difficult conversations when discussing diversity.

"I remember once having a boardroom meeting and allowing everyone to ask me any question they wanted," she said. "They asked me if I was black, BAME or coloured. They asked me what it felt like as a black person navigating a white culture. That meeting felt like the start of a campaign across the whole organisation, as so much came from that courageous conversation."

However, she added that these conversations must be received in the correct way. "It is important the people you are having these conversations with bring their curiosity, and are willing to hear things from a different perspective," she said. "They must be able to put aside their assumptions and look at the world without their usual lens."

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