P&G HRD: Action not words needed on LGBT+ rights

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Acknowledging the company's mistakes around LGBT+ rights at work, P&G has called on employers to take genuine action on D&I

Words without action are meaningless when it comes to LGBT+ rights at work, according to Chris Young, HR director Northern Europe at Procter & Gamble (P&G).

Speaking to HR magazine, Young shared the company's D&I journey so far. As part of Pride month and to mark 50 years since the Stonewall riots, P&G are releasing a short film called Out of The Shadows. The film recounts the story of a group of LGBT+ P&G employees in Cincinnati in the 1990s, who came together to fight for equality in the workplace.

While P&G was one of the first Fortune 500 companies to add 'sexual orientation' to its EEO (equal employment opportunity) statement in 1992, the company’s leadership was conservative and some fellow employees openly homophobic. And in 1993 Cincinnati passed Article XII, an amendment that prevented any laws aimed at protecting gay and lesbian individuals.

The film tells how this group of LGBT+ employees, called GABLE, persisted. Through educating their colleagues, GABLE won several victories including benefits for domestic partners. Today it has 5,000 members in more than 50 countries.

Young said that it's vital for employers to be open about past mistakes. “I’m really proud that we are humble enough to be honest about the mistakes we have made over our 25-plus years,” he said.

“The film is a declaration of some of these mistakes, and it’s a very honest reflection of what we could have done differently. But it's also about our leaders acknowledging the role they played or didn’t play in encouraging LGBT+ [inclusion]. We have to stay intentional and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again.”

He said that this model of D&I also provides useful lessons for leadership: “None of us are perfect. We can, and will, make mistakes. People will always be more tolerant [as long as] you don’t keep making the same mistakes again and again.”

Young said he understands why businesses’ involvement in Pride has sometimes been criticised for exploiting the issue of LGBT+ rights for profit, and causing the event to lose its political and radical roots.

“I understand the cynicism in some companies’ involvement in Pride, and the commercial links," he said. "The important thing is to make sure it’s driven by meaningful action and not just marketing. One of the benefits of having a big powerful brand is that we can really make a difference and be a force for good.

“When it’s just empty words it’s meaningless. But if it’s backed up by action it really makes a difference.”

Young said he was especially proud of the success of his company's Fair campaign, where the Fairy washing-up liquid brand dropped the 'Y' from its bottle, with a portion of the profits from bottles going to a charity that tackles homelessness among the LGBT+ community.

He added that P&G is also launching Share The Care, which aims to makechildcare a non-bias activity that exists outside of gender or sexual orientation. As part of this, the company is implementing a policy to provide eight weeks of paid leave within 18 months of a new birth or adoption.

Looking at D&I more broadly, Young encouraged employers to think about how privilege operates. “There are two concepts that are important for us. One is privilege and helping people understand that whether it’s to do with gender or being LGBT+ or BAME, there is privilege; and we need to understand what privilege looks like and feels like. More importantly, we need to understand what it’s like to not have that privilege,” he explained.

“Then there’s this idea of dominant culture, which is driven by the majority. To use the analogy of the goldfish swimming in the water, the water is that dominant culture, and we need to help people step out of that culture and understand what it feels like to be outside of it. Through doing that we can really begin to become more inclusive.”

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