Boehringer Ingelheim Regenbogen Netzwerk
06 July 2017

“Our perspective enriches the company”

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. So get to know Regina Balk, Boehringer Ingelheim employee and member of the Rainbow Network organising team at Biberach.


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


I work in Research in the Medicinal Chemistry unit – our job is to develop drugs based on chemicals. I joined the company in 2001, and have worked here in Biberach ever since.


Can you tell us about any experiences of coming out in the workplace, with your supervisors or colleagues?


I am happy to say that I haven’t had any negative experiences in that regard. Obviously, I don’t know what people say behind my back, but I have never had to face overt discrimination or even exclusion at the workplace. Nor have I had any problems like that in my private life or in my circle of friends. It simply hasn’t been an issue.


So what was your most positive “coming out” experience at the workplace?


My wife and I got married last year, and we had a notice published in the internal newspaper for Boehringer Ingelheim employees. We had so many positive messages and good wishes, it was really wonderful. Even months afterwards, colleagues that I barely knew kept stopping me in the corridor to congratulate us for being so open. That showed me that people really do notice these things.


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


I think that these aspects definitely play a role at management level, particularly senior management. At the moment, there is no LGBTIQ visibility at all among senior management. I think the complete lack of acknowledgement at that level is a real shame – for example, same-sex partners are not brought along to company social functions. Maybe it is still the case that anyone trying to build a career has to think very carefully before coming out. But all that effort involved in concealing your true nature diminishes the energy you can put into working for the company.

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


I read about the network on the Intranet last year, and attended my first meeting here in Biberach in November. I am now part of the seven-person organising team, and help with building up and developing the network. Our colourful, diverse team, drawn from all parts of the plant, meets at least once a month, to organise events such as the Diversity Day on 30 May 2017. The aim is to make ourselves visible, and naturally to recruit more people to participate in the network.


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


I think there are a lot of benefits. Actively participating in an association extends your horizons in all sorts of ways, and volunteering with our network is just the same. You meet people that you might not encounter otherwise, and get to experience other perspectives. The network also offers a safe space for those who are experiencing problems. But you can also just come along to have some fun (laughs). The most important thing from my perspective is to make people aware of us. The more LGBTIQs can be open about ourselves and stand up for who we are, the more the issue can be “normalised” for others as well.


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


A society consisting entirely of like-minded individuals has never made much progress – and naturally, the same goes for a company like Boehringer Ingelheim. LGBTIQs in particular have often faced a lot of issues during their lives, and may have thought more deeply about their own personal development than others have. I am firmly convinced that our perspective enriches the company. The open acknowledgement of diversity also makes Boehringer Ingelheim a more attractive employer. Our company could, for example, present at career fairs such as “Sticks & Stones”, an event staged in Berlin specifically for the LGBTIQ target group, to send the message that there is no discrimination in our company.


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


First of all, I would really like to see more employees getting involved in the network. We are still just at the start of the journey, finding our feet and learning to walk, so to speak. In terms of the company, I would like to see a continuing clear acknowledgement of diversity and a commitment to supporting LGBTIQ employees. It would be great to generate awareness at top management level, and for them to take a stand explicitly against discrimination, and really “draw a line in the sand”. As an organisation, the Rainbow Network would like to 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. Our company also reflects wider society, so I would like us also to communicate the importance of greater tolerance and acceptance to the outside world.


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


You can’t keep living a lie forever – sooner or later “the truth will out”. So I would advise anyone to come out, rather than painting all sorts of unlikely horror scenarios. As we get to know a person better, stereotypical thinking becomes less of an issue. 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. And sometimes you get a response you didn’t expect, as a pleasant surprise. Naturally, there can also be unpleasant surprises, and ultimately we all have to make our own decision on how we deal with those. For such time as the media still find it necessary to mention a person’s sexual orientation or gender, whatever it might be, we still clearly have a long way to go. Only when this has become such a non-issue that it is no longer worth talking about are we likely to see a better world in this context.


We have just had a long weekend with less than perfect weather conditions – what did you spend your holiday doing?


My wife and I are a “weekend couple”, because we live in Constance – so of course, every weekend I like to go home. And trust me, there is plenty of fun to be had on the shores of Lake Constance in good and bad weather alike (laughs).


"Open acknowledgement of diversity makes Boehringer Ingelheim a more attractive employer, says Regina Balk. "
Denise Hottmann
Regina Balk

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