Boehringer Ingelheim Rainbow Network
17 May 2017

Diversity without compromise – the Boehringer Ingelheim Rainbow Network

On 17 May 1990, the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of diseases. Much has changed for the better in the almost three decades since then – but full equality for lesbians, gays and transsexuals is still a work in progress. Since 2005, 17 May has therefore been observed as the global “International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia” (IDAHOT), in support of tolerance and acceptance. The commitment to a culture of diversity Boehringer Ingelheim is making its own commitment, with a Rainbow Network working to ensure that all company employees are respected and appreciated just as they are.

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“That doesn’t happen here”, and “that doesn’t have anything to do with the workplace”, you might say, but it does, and it has.

It is estimated that between three and ten percent of the population are lesbian, gay, bi, trans, inter or queer (LGBTIQ). That means that there are several million people in Germany whose sexual identity differs from the supposed norm. So this is likely to be the case for some of the colleagues that you work with every day. Many would say that our choice of partner or gender identification is simply a non-issue these days. Celebrities regularly appear in public with their same-sex partners, and trans individuals, too, are much more in the public eye than before. Personalities such as the former Telekom CEO Thomas Sattelberger and the former professional footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger have “outed” themselves from roles and sectors where homosexuality is still far from being a matter of indifference. So what does this have to do with the work environment of a company such as Boehringer Ingelheim? Quite a lot, as it happens. Employees who do not feel the need to hide their true identity are more relaxed, more creative and are generally able to contribute much more to a congenial and innovative climate within the team – which is good for everyone.



Enrichment from diversity


Diversity bring benefits for everyone working in a company, in multiple different ways. According to the results of an international study, almost three-quarters of respondents describing themselves as “straight allies”, i.e. friends and supports of the LGBTIQ community, would rather work in a company that shares this perspective. In other words, diversity plays a major part in making a business an attractive employer for the best talent on the labour market. Closely related to this is the fact that diverse teams are more innovative. The involvement of people with differing perspectives inspires new ways thinking. Conversely, innovation can suffer if people are not willing, or not able, to express their ideas freely and openly. In companies that appreciate and support their LGBTIQ employees, more people feel encouraged to express their opinions freely and frankly. Yet unfortunately, this kind of workplace culture is far from being a matter of course at many companies today.


According to a study by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, 42 percent of all LGBTIQ employees feel discriminated against in their workplace. In such companies, more than half of the LGBTIQ community do not have the confidence to come out. The effort involved concealing their true personality is estimated to consume 20 to 30 percent loss of the (work) energy of the employees involved. This is a loss to the company, and ultimately also to each and every employee. By the same token, providing an open, tolerant atmosphere makes work more efficient and more enjoyable. “There are always two sides to coming out: you need to have confidence in yourself, but you also have to be in an environment that makes that possible”, says Albert Kehrer, chairperson and co-founder of the “Prout at Work” foundation. The organisation promotes an open employment environment, particularly in terms of sexual orientation, gender identity or its expression. In order to achieve ongoing progress towards this kind of openness at Boehringer Ingelheim and create an environment that values and appreciates LGBTIQ employees, since last year the company has  its own “Rainbow Network”. 



Showing our colours and flying the flag: the Rainbow Network at Boehringer Ingelheim


The network aims to be an active contact and cooperation partner for employee and customer-focused communication on LGBTIQ topics. Through collective events and campaigns – such as the Diversity Day – the network aims to highlight the “brightly coloured” side of life in Boehringer Ingelheim. “We want take the exoticism out of the LGBTIQ concept, and treat this as just another issue of everyday life. At the end of the day, it’s all just about people”, says Regina Balk, a member of the network’s organizing group at Ingelheim. Network members are always happy to answer questions or engage in an open discussion. “For someone who has not yet made the decision to come out, the Rainbow Network can provide valuable support and take some of the anxiety out of the situation. Our network provides role models, offers support and creates the space needed for exchanges of ideas and experience”, says Lea Becker, a trans employee, and also a volunteer member of the network. The network is happy to respect requests for anonymity, she says.


Everyone is welcome to get involved, whether they are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, inter or hetero. “The network creates a space in which non-LGBTIQ colleagues can ask questions and engage in discussion and debate. Communication creates openness”, says Prof. Dr. Eric Haaksma, Senior Vice President Research Site Germany. The issue of LGBTIQ and the Rainbow Network are part of the company’s overarching Diversity & Inclusion Strategy. Haaksma is the sponsor of network on behalf of company’s management in Germany, because he has no doubt: “We can only gain from diversity.”


Events such as IDAHOT are the perfect opportunity for Boehringer Ingelheim as an international company to take a stand alongside the Rainbow Network in favour of diversity and acceptance. “We simply have to do something to counter the right-wing currents of opinion currently in the air, in this country and internationally, and to show that our company stands for diversity and open-mindedness”, argues Dr. Christian Seifert, Executive Director Statistics and Data Analysis in BioPharma, and member of the Rainbow Network organising team in Biberach.


"At the end of the day, it’s all just about people, says Regina Balk. "
Denise Hottmann

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