Raising LGBT awareness in Italy

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Aon wanted its LGBT diversity and inclusion efforts in Italy to match the values of the wider company, and for employees to feel able to be themselves

The organisation

Aon is one of the world’s leading professional services firms offering clients risk, retirement and health consultancy services. It was formed through the merger of Ryan Insurance Group and the Combined Insurance Company of America in 1982, before taking its Aon name in 1987. The business currently employs more than 50,000 people across 120 countries and generates annual revenues of more than $10 billion.

The challenge

Italy is one of Europe’s most resistant countries to the outward recognition of gay rights. As a strongly Catholic society it scores just 22% and ranks 35 out of 49 European countries in terms of its gay rights, according to ILGA Europe’s Rainbow Index for 2019. Same-sex civil unions have only been legal since 2016, and even then only after provisions for second parent adoption were removed – meaning same-sex couples still don’t have the same legal rights as opposite-sex couples.

This cultural background inevitably filters into diversity and inclusion in the workplace. According to a recent report by ISTAT (the Italian National Institute of Statistics) 40% of Italian homosexuals/ bisexuals have faced discrimination at school, university or work.

All of which can create a difficult backdrop for the regional offices of a business where diversity is a global boardroom concern, says Donato Parma, HR director of Aon Italy.

“In our Italian offices Aon employs staff speaking 28 languages, so diversity is everywhere around us,” he says.

“Internationally our priority is to make a difference and have a positive societal impact wherever we are, but at the moment we are in strange political times. Although we already run bias-awareness training we felt we needed to have something specific around LGBT awareness in Italy.”

And so Parma, together with Aon’s HR director ARS EMEA Claudio Dozio and Igor Suran, executive director at local non-profit diversity awareness organisation Parks – Liberi e Uguali, set about improving LGBT awareness across Aon’s Italian offices of Florence, Milan, Rome and Turin.

The strategy

Parma was keen to create a “workplace where people feel free to be themselves”. But given the cultural context, the approach taken was a gentle one to “start conversations” and encourage dialogue more organically, reports Dozio.

Aon decided to adopt Parks’ Power of Inclusion programme, which focuses on coaching and mentoring managers about inclusivity. The programme was launched in May 2019, with one eye on the aim to be part of the nationwide Pride events taking place in July.

“The programme supports those who may not have the tools in house to help live and encourage the values of diversity,” says Suran. “We know that people can be unwilling to let managers know they’ve married, or be reluctant to take their paid marriage leave if it means having to come out, so managers are equipped with training and skills to help support colleagues who want to ‘come out’, or to help or advise trans or transitioning people with questions they might have.”

Training sessions started with 100 managers over the Summer, and by the start of August the top 35 senior managers had received training, with more planned. Coaching is also being rolled out at board level.

Dozio explains that from the outset “the plan was to cover all possibilities of HR policy, and be completely non-discriminatory”.

“We decided to create a local LGBT committee,” he says, adding that the programme was also supported with specific benefits, including making no distinctions in policies between married and unmarried gay or trans employees for maternity and paternity cover and pay.

The result

Like any sensitive and culturally-difficult transformation process, results won’t necessarily be realised overnight. But according to Parma “the cultural message about diversity is really getting through”.

Since launching the plan has been modified, including the creation of a team of LGBT allies and ambassadors able to have specific conversations with all 1,500 colleagues.

“Already we can feel a difference,” says Parma. “You hear it in conversations, and even though we’re at the beginning of our journey sense people feel they don’t need to hide who they are when they come to work.”

A strong sign of progress is Aon’s successful participation in Milan’s Pride march in July. “Participation of colleagues there was outstanding, especially as people brought their wider family along too,” he says.

“People have now come out that wouldn’t have, and people say they feel more free
to talk about their sexuality without it being an embarrassment.”

This piece appeared in the November 2019 issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

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