Sexual orientation and gender identity, the most overlooked diversity issue in the company

Diversity and inclusion policies are already widely recognised in large companies as drivers of productivity, innovation, growth, recruitment and retention of talent, and social well-being. Investors scrutinise progress, while employees and other stakeholders are increasingly seeking organisations focused on these values. Without this focus it is difficult to understand an increasingly diversified and global world.

Two years on since the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising to vindicate the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, it is a good time to review business practices concerning sexual orientation and gender identity, which many regard as the major outstanding issue of inclusion and diversity in companies.

Although Spain and Portugal have ratified pioneering global laws for the recognition and inclusion of LGBTQ+, homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia and transphobia are often still present in work environments. According to a study by the Secretary of State for Equality on Inclusion of sexual diversity and gender identity in companies and organisations in Spain and Portugal, 36% of LGBTQ+ people often, or very often, hear negative rumours or comments about sexual orientation/gender identity, and many hide their identity for fear of not being accepted.

Such bias and discrimination are not always easy to detect; incidences of discrimination wrongly considered of ‘low intensity’ still often occur and, in some environments, homophobic language is even socially accepted, preventing non-heterosexual people from naturally talking about their personal lives.

According to the survey, such ‘identity concealment’ is motivated mainly by the thought that “Nobody is interested in what I do and who I am outside of work”. Also, to avoid rumours, stereotyping, negative professional perception of the person, fear of rejection, of isolation, or even of losing their job.


Pride in diversity

“For me, sexual orientation and gender identity is the most overlooked diversity issue. People are still not too comfortable talking about these issues in many companies”, explains Juan Hernández Gil, a member of Cellnex’ International HR team in the People Department. Cellnex is a multinational company with a naturally diverse ecosystem due to its businesses’ geographical and cultural scope.

Juan speaks openly about prejudice in companies and the subtle way in which they sometimes approach gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Many people who do not hide who they are in their daily life, do so at work and ‘stay in the closet’. In these cases, part of their mind is constantly occupied with hiding, diverting attention, or actually putting up an insurmountable barrier that seriously affects their lives, even in terms of promotion”.

“Many relevant conversations in the world of work take place during coffee breaks, at dinners with colleagues or on business trips. When someone systematically avoids taking part in such environments for fear of visibility, they miss many opportunities”.

In celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride week, Juan stars in what many might consider a brave video, in which he recounts his experiences to his co-workers.

“For me, at Cellnex it has always been very easy to be me. When I was looking for a job, almost four years ago, I was very clear that I did not want to be in a company that did not recognise and accept me, therefore, I included in my CV my experience as a mentor in an NGO for LGBTQ+ rights”, he proudly explains. “I think that many people at my company will be pleasantly surprised by this video that goes straight to the point”.

“We need to create safe environments for everyone from the outset, so that it is clear that as a company, we are not embarrassed by, nor do we shy away from talking about these and other issues. All employees must feel that they are in a safe place”, he explains in an interview. “Also, I want there to be diversity in all areas of a company, in senior management, decision-making, promotions, etc. so that we truly refect the world around us.“

In the video, Juan refers to Cellnex’s diversity policies, and to the “Diversity Champions” identified across various fields who can help to talk about and action these matters in the countries where Cellnex operates in. They will work to make different types of identities more visible, and the group plans to extend to all five main topics: gender, generational, functional, cultural and sexual orientation and gender identity.

At the same time, the group is running a pilot on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), Connecting Circles on the sexual orientation and gender identity topic, which they hope to expand shortly to the other topics, to create areas of trust in which small groups of people can share ideas, experiences, promote development, break down hierarchies, etc.”. In short, think together differently.


Carlos Ruano

Periodista y fundador de Newsbub

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