Boehringer Ingelheim Regenbogen Netzwerk
12 October 2017

Feeling comfortable with yourself

Karin Jehle is a commercial specialist in Biberach. She has been with Boehringer Ingelheim since 1989 and currently works in the Research & Development area of Nonclinical Drug Safety. Jehle carries out her work "on the edge of the site" – but on the edge only in a geographical sense, since this calm and collected woman is involved in the Rainbow Network in Biberach and leaves little doubt that she is definitely at the heart of our community in the company. An interview by Jan Pfaff.

Ms Jehle, you are quite open about your sexual orientation. What has been your experience as a lesbian employee at Boehringer Ingelheim?


During my "heterolesbian" phase before I came out in the company, I was part of an active lesbian group where I met many like-minded women. It was there that I found out who I was and discovered my inner balance, my serenity. I came out very shortly afterwards.


At the start of my career at Boehringer Ingelheim I worked in Production. From 1996 to 1998 I successfully completed my vocational training as an administrative assistant. This opportunity to do so presented itself because of restructuring measures in the company and we were a class of 12 adult female employees of Boehringer Ingelheim. It was then that I also had my first girlfriend. At that time I had made no secret of my sexual orientation, because the clearer I was with myself, the easier it was for other people to accept me as I am. Later, I became a coordinatorin Nonclinical Drug Safety (formerly Toxicology), where I outed myself as a lesbian from the start and did not experience any negative situations.


I often share my thoughts with colleagues and managers and receive open questions from those who are interested to learn about my life. But even during private encounters, for example at a barbecue, I have not experienced any problems. I talk quite naturally about my partner, but don't especially highlight the fact that she is a woman. For example, a new colleague had learned in advance that I'm a lesbian and said to me when we met: "Oh yes, I already knew that before I got to know you". That was nothing special for me, and I appreciate the fact that I don't have to out myself – just as I don't have to say that I'm overweight, which I also happen to be.


You are involved in the Rainbow Network in Biberach. How did that come about?


I first became aware of the Rainbow Network at the Network Marketplace in Biberach, where various employee initiatives were being presented. I then went to my first Rainbow meeting in Biberach after finding out about it on our Intranet site. I initially thought that it was only a recreational meeting. But in fact it was quite different – and I enjoyed it even without any dancing (laughs). It motivated me to be visible and present as a lesbian in the Boehringer Ingelheim community. As with the Works Council, standing up for others and acting in solidarity is important for the Rainbow Network as well. The management in Germany is also supportive and visibly sponsoring us, which is very important.


Why is the Rainbow Network important?


There are always phases of self-discovery, and the Network can help people during such times. They should take the plunge and come to a meeting. We don't organize individual meetings for every LGBTIQ letter, in other words separate meetings for lesbians, gays, bis, trans, intersex, or queer people. Instead, everyone involved in this community, as well as any interested friends who we refer to as "Straight Allies", are meant to feel welcome and experience the tolerance and acceptance of themselves and others. For these form the basic building blocks for living together, at Boehringer Ingelheim and elsewhere.


Everyone – including me – has individual tolerance limits. A good example of this for me is the subject of overweight: Anyone who feels comfortable with, and tolerates themselves will also be tolerated by others. But it's important that no-one should feel pressured to come out. Everyone should be able to decide for themselves where, when and to whom they would like to come out.


What would you advise friends and colleagues - male and female - who are worried about encountering rejection?


One should not live a life of disguise (and I'm very bad at lying anyway). My outing was open and free. It went well for me and I wanted to let the whole world know. If you accept yourself then it is not a problem. I have found people to be accepting. My mother wasn't enthusiastic initially, but I have learned that especially elderly people are much more accepting than one may have assumed.


The Rainbow Network can help people come to terms with themselves. My motto is: Give everyone at least as much time to deal with the issue as you have needed yourself. If homophobic comments come up, I would advise the recipient not to react outright defensively. It is better to ask questions and provide enlightenment. Empathy plays an important role here and I always try to put myself in my counterpart’s position and lead an open dialogue. Because appreciation means dealing with others respectfully even if you are going to face opposition.

"The Rainbow Network can help people come to terms with themselves. My motto is: Give everyone at least as much time to deal with the issue as you have needed yourself, says Karin Jehle. "
Denise Hottmann
Karin Jehle, Boehringer Ingelheim

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