Boehringer Ingelheim Regenbogen Netzwerk
02 June 2017

“My motto is that openness is always best”

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – what does this have to do with the workplace? In this day and age, we believe a lot. Since only in 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of diseases. Much has changed for the better in the almost three decades since then – but equal opportunities for lesbians, gays and transgender people is still a work in progress.


Boehringer Ingelheim is making its own commitment to establishing a culture where diversity is valued, be it gender, cultural background, age, physical characteristics, or sexual orientation and gender identity. The German Rainbow Network is supporting this by increasing the visibility of the “brightly coloured” side of life in our company and giving LGBTIQ colleagues a safe space for exchanging experiences and ideas.


In our series of LGBTIQ interviews, colleagues from the Boehringer Ingelheim Rainbow Networks in Ingelheim and Biberach tell us about their experiences. Meet Lea Becker, trans employee at Boehringer Ingelheim and member of the organising team of the Rainbow Network in Ingelheim.

Ms Becker, what is your current role at Boehringer Ingelheim?


I work in Ingelheim in the IT OPS Security Management unit, in the department for personnel and building security. My task area includes fire alarm, evacuation and access authorisation systems. I have been with the company since 1986, initially as an external employee, and then in-house since 2000. I work in a highly technical area, which therefore tends to be an exclusively male domain. I used to bury myself in technical specifications, but since I have been living as openly trans, interacting and socialising with others seems to have become much more important (laughs).


As a trans employee, what sort of workplace coming out experiences have you had with your managers and colleagues?


I have experienced the whole gamut of reactions – from respect and acknowledgement through to blank incomprehension. For many people, I suddenly became invisible. Some even stopped saying hello on arriving at work. But that was the exception rather than the rule – there were far more positive reactions than negative. In February 2014, I wrote an open letter on my trans identity, which I sent to 100 people that I had work relationships with, either within the company or as suppliers and service providers. I believe that openness stimulates people’s interest. In any case, my own openness resulted in lots of questions and really good conversations. Don’t talk about me, talk to me, as they say. I also had the full support of management, particularly my direct supervisor. That made a real difference.


So what was your most positive workplace coming out experience?


There have been a few really positive stories in that regard. For example, several months before I officially came out, I shared my situation with a few of my direct colleagues. We talked the whole thing through, and I asked them not to say anything to the others at that stage. They all kept that commitment, which I took as a sign of real trust. But best of all was probably actually coming out. Getting to that point had been a long and difficult process, but finally being able to live openly as who I was proved to be an incredibly positive experience. Another very positive experience was the feedback I received from my open letter. Some colleagues that I had never met contacted me and expressed their respect for what I was doing.


To what extent do sexual orientation and gender identity play a role in the everyday work environment at Boehringer Ingelheim?


My initial response, without thinking about it, would be: none at all. But obviously, there are some consequences for those who deviate from the norm. Lesbian or gay colleagues who have not come out at work might decide not to talk to people about their partners, for example. Or a trans employee might have trouble at the entry gate explaining why the name on their badge does not match their appearance. There are all sorts of traps for the unwary. This is where the Rainbow Network can make a real contribution, by talking about our experiences and generating change.


How did you find out about the Rainbow Network? What form does your involvement take?


In summer 2016, I saw an invitation posted on our Intranet for the first meeting of the network, and straight away I said to myself, “I’ll be part of this”. I felt accepted in the group right from the start, and our network meetings are really harmonious, enjoyable social occasions. I am now part of the four-person organising team here in Ingelheim, and am a willing contact person for any questions or discussions on trans issues. My contact details are all on the Intranet, so I look forward to hearing from interested colleagues.


What kind of contribution do you think the Rainbow network can make? Why would you encourage a gay colleague, say, to get involved?


Essentially, my motto is that openness is always best. Clearly, it will depend on each person’s life situation, and ultimately everyone has to decide for themselves. But 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. But the network also has real benefits for employees who have already come out. 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. That is our cause – which calls for our commitment and will also reward our efforts, because otherwise much of what has been achieved would not have been possible.


What benefits do employees participating in the Rainbow Network bring for the company?


I believe that Boehringer Ingelheim gets both internal and external benefits from the work we do. Within the company, we are available to all employees as contact persons, and we also aim to work closely with HR, the works council and internal social counseling. But the network is also involved in the company’s external relations, in interactions with the LGBTIQ networks of other companies, for example, or at the “round table” of the Rhineland–Palatinate delegates for LGBTIQ issues. We make diversity in our company visible – and for many people, this openness may become a good argument for choosing Boehringer Ingelheim as their preferred employer.


What do you see as the next steps for the network the LGBTIQ visibility in the company?


I would like people to overcome their fears, get interested in the issue, and talk to us – when we have a Rainbow Network info booth at an event, for example. Dialogue is incredibly important to get over people’s reluctance to address the issue. I can’t change those people who are strictly opposed to a “brightly coloured” world. But I can make life a bit more difficult for them, and take action to stop those ideas spreading to other people around them – and that’s why I’m involved.


What advice do you have for new LGBTIQ employees at Boehringer Ingelheim who have not yet come out in the workplace?


From my own experience, I can only tell them that life is much better when you have come out. Obviously, everyone has to find their own way, but trans people in particular often experience high internal stress – so it can be a real relief to share their experience with others. The Rainbow Network gives them the opportunity to do this, anonymously if they prefer. It can also be a good idea to tell a few trusted colleagues or managers before actually coming out. My advice would be that whatever the path you decide is right for you, remember that you are not alone. Talk to us!


Today is your last day before your holiday – do you have any special plans?


The chances of good weather seem to be improving, and I plan to spend a lot of time outdoors next week, focusing on sport and physical activity. My wife and our two daughters are staying home, because I feel I need some time on my own. We will take our holiday as a family at the end of July. I find I can now enjoy my holidays a lot more than ever before. I lead a much healthier life, with less stress, and I do things I wouldn’t have dreamed of before coming out – going swimming, for example. I also enjoy meeting new people – so I’m looking forward to the break.


"Everyone benefits from an open, non-conflictual work environment, says Lea Becker. "
Denise Hottmann
Lea Becker

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