Albert Kehrer, Vorsitzender PROUT AT WORK
20 July 2017

„The Coming Out is a Matter of Two Sides“

Albert Kehrer is one out of two board members of PROUT AT WORK. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to achieving workplace equality for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Kehrer, himself a former Manager, supports with PROUT AT WORK companies and organizations in the creation of an open and appreciative company culture free of homo- and transphobia. Boehringer Ingelheim supports the goals of PROUT AT WORK and is a member of the PROUTEMPLOYER cooperation. In his interview with Jan Pfaff, Kehrer discusses the topic of LGBTIQ in the workplace.

Mr Kehrer, why is it important to address sexual orientation and gender identity in a company?


For heterosexual people, it is a perfectly normal thing to express their sexual orientation at the workplace. They can talk freely about their male or female partners and this freedom ought to extend quite naturally to all employees. Homo- and bisexual people, too, should be free to express their sexual orientation. It is important to allow people to be the way they are at the workplace.


Does such an appreciation of the LGBTIQ community offer any advantage to a company?


Yes, in several ways. Appreciation of the LGBTIQ community is an indicator for an open-minded company culture. But this is not to be understood in a purely altruistic way. This openness likewise means for a company to be able to tap into a bigger talent pool for staffing. Also: With an appreciative culture, new customers and markets become available to a company. As a service provider, for instance, a company can become a more attractive supplier.


In your opinion, what responsibility do leaders have?


Leaders are responsible for measuring people by their performance for the company, not by their appearance, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Consequently, discrimination in any form must be clearly rejected. Leaders of a company must clearly commit themselves to their talents and also question their own unconscious bias.


How does the topic need to be addressed within the company to avoid new biases?


It is important to have a clear commitment by a company’s top management to support its LGBTIQ employees. All dimensions of diversity must be clearly addressed and the company leadership must clearly recognize the importance of the subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It is probably impossible to convince all people of the importance of the LGBTIQ-topic for a company and there will always be obstacles. It is critical that the topic is dealt with in a natural way, because it is not about creating an advantage for LGBTIQ employees at the workplace, but simply about creating equal opportunities.


In what way can such a commitment be embedded in the company culture?


It is not enough when a company supports a network only once, it is about ongoing cooperation and patronage. The LGBTIQ-topic must be frequently addressed by the top management and frequently appear on the agenda to make it clear that the company is committed to its LGBTIQ employees. However, there also needs be a frequent examination on how the issue develops within the company, similar to the way other Diversity & Inclusion topics, such as gender or ethnic background, are treated.

Sustainability is therefore the keyword. A change in the corporate culture only becomes apparent when the topic becomes a lasting item on the company agenda and is conveyed in an authentic way.


So far, there are only few visible leaders from the LGBTIQ community in Germany. Why do you think this is the case?


Coming out is always a matter of two sides: One must have the courage, but one also must be empowered to have that courage. Company culture in our society is still often determined by the profile “male, white, age mid-forties”. This is not an environment that is very open towards a coming out. A company needs to ask itself what it can do to foster a corporate culture that allows everyone to come out.


Which positive examples do you know of a company LGBTIQ employee resource group contributing to a company’s success?


Such a network can contribute to a change of a company’s culture and, for instance, raise awareness through workshops. We have member-companies that have implemented successful marketing activities. For example, one member from the finance sector ran a marketing campaign in the gay and lesbian press of Cologne that resulted in an acquisition of new customers far larger than what could be achieved by conventional main stream marketing.


How does the ideal state for the LGBTIQ community in the workplace look like?


Ideally, everybody can freely choose the partner they like and everyone can be the way they want, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Companies commit themselves externally and openly to the LGBTIQ community and there is a frequent discussion.

Even today, some people want to discard the topic as to them “legally, everything is ok”. There must, however, be a discussion about the topic of LGBTIQ just like about the other diversity topics.


Which advice do you have for Boehringer Ingelheim?


A company is most successful in its dealing with the LGBTIQ-topic when there is a sponsor in its executive board, or management. This sponsor is often not LGBTIQ themselves – but is interested in the LGBTIQ-topic and represents the subject openly both internally and externally. In many companies, the support by the top management marks the turning point in a company’s treatment of their LGBTIQ employees.

"Coming out is always a matter of two sides: One must have the courage, but one also must be empowered to have that courage, says Albert Kehrer, chairman of PROUT AT WORK. "
Denise Hottmann

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