“It doesn’t matter to me whether they’re a man or a woman, black or white, normal or gay or lesbian or whatever they want, I just care about them working and producing.”
The sacrosanct principle of meritocracy, on which every company and every institution is based. All workplaces.
When Parks was founded a little over ten years ago, its mission seemed utopian, not to say dystopian, in the minds of many. Talk about lesbians, gays and transsexuals in the workplace! Why? We have lived happily for decades without talking about it; what need is there now to introduce this topic. Anyone who is lesbian or gay, do your thing at home. Maybe in the evenings, after dinner.
What has changed in the last ten years is the individual and collective awareness that we are not talking about the uncomfortable issue of sexuality – which is awkward for many people – but of life. And life cannot stop in front of the factory gates or outside the entrance to HQ. We carry our life with us, it is a part of us, it is us, every moment of our day.
During these years of working at Parks this is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned, the most important notion that I have made my own and that I try to share with those who listen to me.
Why are we talking about this issue, which is uncomfortable for many, only now? Because the society we live in has changed. Media representation. Laws. The expectations of young talents who knock on our doors. And we must respond to these expectations and to the social change we are experiencing.
We may have realised that being lesbian or gay or transgender is no more a choice than being cisgender or heterosexual. Choice implies the possibility of opting for one thing over another. If you choose wrong, you accept the consequences. And when did I, a straight man, ever look in the mirror and make the choice to be this way? Straight, I mean.
Thirty years ago, on the first day of my first job, my father told me “Igor, look and listen and try to be like everyone else. Otherwise, your company will not want you there.” Today, the company wants you for who you are. It wants you for your life experience, it wants you for the added value you bring. Today, it is the new talents who choose us, the companies.
So why do I, a company or an institution, have to do to attract these new talents who will allow me to grow? What should I do to keep those who are already there, but who leave their identity behind every morning before stepping into the office?
I have to create a work environment in which everyone will feel they are at their best, in order to express their potential to the fullest. Because this is real wealth, for those who work there, for the company, for the system.
How do I create this inclusive and respectful work environment? By working on norms, protocols, processes. Spreading the culture of inclusion. By communicating what I have done internally and, if I can, externally.
But I, a company, have been doing these things for some time. I speak of gender equity, of disabilities, I also speak of different cultures. What do lesbians, gays and transsexuals have to do with that? I never talk about my sexuality, why should I commit my resources here and create something that allows them to talk about their sexuality instead? They can do their own thing at home. Maybe in the evenings.
Really, though? Aren’t we talking about life?