Boehringer Ingelheim Regenbogen Netzwerk
29 May 2017

Diversity is the winner – Boehringer Ingelheim celebrates Diversity Day

With rainbow trout and colourful cupcakes in the company restaurant, a prize wheel  with questions on Diversity & Inclusion and a diverse range of prizes and rainbow flags, this year’s Diversity Day promises to be a colourful occasion all round. For the fifth consecutive year, Boehringer Ingelheim is organising this annual event, started by the German corporate initiative “Charta der Vielfalt” (Diversity Charter). The Boehringer Ingelheim Rainbow Network, dedicated to promoting appreciation and respect for LGBTIQ employees, will feature prominently in the day’s activities.

Behind all the fun of the fair lies a more serious message: tolerance and acceptance of any kind of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression of sexuality is not some kind of “nice to have” treat to be enjoyed or shared with others. Appreciation for all employees is an integral part of Boehringer Ingelheim. LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, inter, queer) people are estimated to make up as many as ten percent of the population, which would mean up to 1,500 people at Boehringer Ingelheim in Germany alone. So we are not just talking about a small minority. Care and responsibility for all employees are core principles for us as a family-owned company. And furthermore, an appreciative and respectful workplace atmosphere that allows all employees to be who they are is also fundamental to Boehringer Ingelheim’s success. “We need respect, trust, empathy and passion”, says Prof. Eric Haaksma, Head of Research Germany. For some months now, he has been the management sponsor for the Boehringer Ingelheim Rainbow Network. “Only in an inclusive workplace, valueing differences, can you fully express your creativity and make your contribution to the company”.


Ten years ago, a ground-breaking study on being “Out at the Office”, based on an extensive survey of LGBTIQ respondents, confirmed what most people already believed intuitively: that employees who can openly express their sexual orientation or gender identity waste less effort and energy on self-monitoring everything they do and every word they say. Conversely, a lesbian colleague who is constantly reminding herself to use the gender-neutral term “partner” rather than “girlfriend”, and is anxious about being “outed”, represents a loss of valuable mental resources and creativity for the company. “Ultimately, everyone benefits from an open, non-conflictual work environment where there is no need to waste time and energy on side issues such as sexual orientation or gender identity”, says Lea Becker, a trans employee at Boehringer Ingelheim. Employees who do not have to conceal their true identity at the workplace also have higher job satisfaction levels. This also brings benefits for their workmates – after all, who likes sharing an office with discontented colleagues?


“Appreciation of the LGBTIQ community is an indicator for an open corporate culture.”


Communication and openness are vitally important elements in building acceptance and appreciation, as some LGBTIQ employees at Boehringer Ingelheim know from their own experience. “As we get to know a person better, stereotypical thinking becomes less of an issue”, says Regina Balk, a research staff member in the Medical Chemistry business unit. “I know from my own experience, in the neighbourhood where I live, for example, that the more open I am about my homosexuality, the easier it is for the other person.” Promoting communication and dialogue and raising the visibility of the diversity issue are also key objectives of the annual Diversity Day event, created by “Charta der Vielfalt” (Diversity Charter). This largest German Diversity Network under the patronage of Chancellor Angela Merkel is supporting a diverse, open organisational culture and a prejudice-free workplace environment. A total of almost 2,500 companies, representing well over 9 million employees, have now signed the charter, as Boehringer Ingelheim did as early as 2012. At the beginning of this year, the company went one step further, upgrading its status from signatory to member of the Diversity Charter – as one of just 24 companies in Germany to do so.


One of the strategic partners of the Charter and Boehringer Ingelheim is the PROUT AT WORK organisation. This foundation organises events, publishes guidelines and surveys, and partners with other organisations in support of an open workplace environment, especially in terms of sexual orientation, gender identity and the expression of sexuality. According to Albert Kehrer, chairperson of PROUT AT WORK: “Appreciation of the LGBTIQ community is an indicator for an open corporate culture.” While initiatives such as the Diversity Charter and PROUT AT WORK provide valuable guidance and dialogue opportunities at the wider societal level, in-company networks lay the practical foundations for an open and appreciative day-to-day work environment.


Showing our colours and flying the flag


The Boehringer Ingelheim Rainbow Network aims to be an active contact and cooperation partner for employee- and customer-focused communication on LGBTIQ topics. Through common events and campaigns, the network aims to highlight the “brightly coloured” side of life at Boehringer Ingelheim. Network members are always happy to answer questions or exchange ideas. If requested, anonymity is of course ensured. All company employees are welcome to get involved, whether they are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, inter or hetero. Dr. Christian Seifert, Executive Director Statistics and Data Analysis in BioPharma, and a member of the Rainbow Network organising team, sees external involvement as particularly positive: “I would like to see as many ‘straight allies’ as possible, i.e. non-LGBTIQ colleagues supporting the network. They do not suffer discrimination at first hand, so their involvement is clearly based on their conviction of what is right.” The LGBTIQ issue and the Rainbow Network form an integral part of Boehringer Ingelheim’s comprehensive Diversity & Inclusion strategy.


Curious to find out more? Watch out for employee stories over the next few weeks, in the form of full-length interviews with members of the Boehringer Ingelheim Rainbow Network.


"Appreciation of the LGBTIQ community is an indicator for an open corporate culture, says Albert Kehrer. "
Denise Hottmann

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