Elena di Cunzolo
It all started with an unsigned letter from a Dow Michigan employee to our then-CEO. The letter ended as follows:
“I hope that one day I will be brave enough to sign a letter like this with my name. I also hope that in one, two or five years I will have seen enough progress that I will still want to give my very best to remain with Dow.”
That was back in 1999. It took a few more years than our wishful colleague was hoping for … Twenty years have passed, but we’ve come a long way since that letter. Inspired and supported by our strong company culture, we engaged in a journey that enabled us to make significant progress: from ignoring a dimension of diversity that was still hidden and “uncomfortable” at the time, we kicked off our commitment to listen, spread awareness, speak up, support and advocate for the rights, needs, expectations and aspirations of our LGBT+ employees. Today, Inclusion is a foundational corporate value at Dow, one of our four strategic pillars alongside Sustainability, Customer Centricity and Innovation.
GLAD is the name of Dow’s ERG (Employee Resource Group) that focuses on LGBT+ inclusion. In 2020 we celebrated our twentieth anniversary. The name GLAD is widely appreciated, as it carries a message of positivity, both internally and outside of our company. Fostering a safe, inclusive, supportive and open working environment for LGBT+ employees is not only a strategic priority for us: it’s about passion and fun. We are GLAD. The “A” stands for “Ally”. In Europe, nearly 90% of Dow’s GLAD associates self-identify as non-LGBT+ allies. Allies play a critical role; their support is our biggest strength. Allies are the foundational pillar of our engagement as we transform our company culture and continue to implement initiatives to support and value LGBT+ diversity. One key project that is currently underway is moving in exactly that direction: the from Ally to Advocate programme, which aims to further increase employee awareness so that anyone can take ownership and drive the change, both internally as well as through external advocacy. An ally is someone who, even if they don’t belong to the LGBT+ community, is engaged, speaks up, devotes time to this and proactively seeks opportunities to challenge conscious and unconscious biases, standing out as a role model and being recognised as an advocate for inclusive behaviour.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges to our I&D agenda. The dramatic slowdown in social dynamics has caused stress, frustration and uncertainty, inducing some people to become less keen to look at diversity as an enriching personal and professional experience. To maintain momentum and revitalise employee engagement, we went back to basics. We thoroughly reviewed our narrative and training material on the basic concepts of human sexuality, the correct terminology to describe the different dimensions of sexual diversity, and the most common biases around LGBT+ diversity. Education and maintaining high levels of awareness are key enablers in change management, as they reinforce our mission to transform Dow culture to the point that sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are irrelevant.
Within the broad spectrum of LGBT+ diversity, the condition of transgender people is too often looked upon as a subordinate priority – whereas it should be an area of focus and dedicated resources. In 2020, for the first time in Dow’s history, the Dow Italy GLAD ERG took the lead on a European-wide project, with the aim of implementing a Transgender Policy. The policy sets out simple and transparent guidelines for transgender employees, HR and leaders, and is designed to help everyone to better understand the challenges that a transgender person may face in the workplace – from recruitment to full professional integration, with a focus on the support the company can offer, before, during and after gender transition.
Another key focus that is currently on our agenda is supporting families with LGBT+ children. Covid-related lockdowns have had an impact on family relationships and triggered additional anxiety and frustration in situations where the coming out has not happened yet, or has, with a negative reaction by the parents. In phase 1 of this programme, we started by joining and taking advantage of the pilot experiences of teams of LGBT+ children’s parents, formed spontaneously at Dow in North America with the intention to listen, share, support and offer advice. Our target in 2021 is to set up our own team in Italy, possibly with the support of external partners.
We can’t deny the challenges and barriers created by the long-lasting Covid-19 social emergency and how they have impacted, to a certain extent, our ability to pursue our I&D initiatives as consistently as we had initially planned. Despite that, we’ve never lost sight of our objectives and above all, of the vision we have had since the very first day of our journey: looking forward to the day that ERGs dedicated to LGBT+, like ours, will no longer have a reason to exist. Some of you may think this is utopian. Nonetheless, we see things moving, finally also in Italy. In my interactions with I&D leaders from other companies, I find that many of them share the same vision. This will not come easily, though: in the current challenging social environment, our responsibility as individuals, companies and associations, is even greater. We can make a difference only if we boost our engagement in supporting and advocating for LGBT+ inclusion, and thus accelerate the transformation.