Fabio Palermo

The pandemic has generated upheavals the extent of which is not entirely clear yet. We have some idea of ​​what is happening outside the walls of our homes, if we have not been dramatically impacted by it ourselves, and we try to interpret reality by navigating health reports, data and statistics and decrees and regulations that follow each other endlessly.

Inside our homes we try to square the circle: singles, couples, families, everyone has been transformed into a domestic juggler, oscillating dangerously between a wide range of emotions.

And what is happening in companies? The Covid-19 emergency has upset our lives, changing habits and confronting us with uncertainty, fear, sometimes frustration. But if on the one hand the pandemic has created a sense of global community in the name of vulnerability, on the other hand the isolation and socio-economic instability have led to the emergence of new forms of social exclusion, disproportionately affecting the groups that are already the most vulnerable to discrimination, putting their independence and security at risk.

A study by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia showed how this crisis could favour an increase in discrimination against LGBT+ individuals. At the same time, mental health problems associated with the increase in ‘minority stress’, a specific type of stress derived from belonging to a minority, may also increase for these groups.

In this context of difficulty and uncertainty, it is more important than ever that we decisively push back against every form of inequality and every discriminatory attitude, continuing to guarantee there is space for different voices and multiplying points of view: this is the only way will we be able to meet the challenges that the future is already creating for us.

This awareness must push people to network, to feel close to each other, not only in private life but also in professional contexts, within companies. It is on this principle that ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) were born in many companies. ERGs are affinity groups within companies in which employees recognise each other and come together on a voluntary basis, cultivating common interests and sharing experiences.

In my workplace, over a year ago some employees founded the Italian chapter of Open & Out, the ERG with a LGBT+ vocation that is rapidly growing globally. It is strongly represented, with over 3,400 employees in over 80 sections throughout the world; its purpose is to help promote an inclusive work environment where all employees can feel listened to and accepted.

The success of the birth of the Italian chapter makes us particularly proud: in fact, despite the progress and the trend towards greater inclusion of diversity, our country is only in 32nd place out of 49 in the European Rainbow Index on human rights for LGBTQI+ of the ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association), the international association that brings together over 400 LGBT+ groups from around the world.

Born in September 2019, Open & Out Italia is a very active group that enjoys strong support from our leadership team, which has invited the entire company to take part. The association not only contributes to creating a path that enhances Johnson & Johnson’s inclusive culture, but its activities also allow it to bring new and different ideas into the company, helping to build a more cohesive community and achieve better results in business terms.

The group is engaged in several communication activities: it has reached over 600 subscribers on Teams and in the dedicated area, in-depth posts and information are published regularly to create debate and maintain a focus on LGBT+ issues. Two important virtual meetings were added to these ongoing activities in 2020.

The first event was held last June 25, on Pride Day. The Open & Out Pride Day was a real moment of sharing for all employees and rainbow flags were raised outside all of Johnson & Johnson’s Italian plants, to emphasise the company’s support for the fight for inclusion. Through videos that had a strong emotional impact, and inspiring talks and presentations, the story of Pride was told and important topics such as discrimination and homophobia were discussed. Over 900 employees from all the group’s companies connected to the virtual event: there was heartfelt participation, which was also confirmed by the enthusiastic and supportive feedback received.

The members of Open & Out do not necessarily have to belong to the LGBT+ community. On the contrary, there are numerous “allies” within the group. These allies are people who do not identify as LGBT +, but support an inclusive environment for all. The second Open & Out Italia event, the Ally Workshop 2020, was dedicated to them. The goal was to involve a greater number of allies to support the inclusion of the LGBT+ community at Johnson & Johnson. The workshop, organised via Zoom, was an opportunity to talk about the role of allies, and provided advice on how to behave to prevent and counteract unconscious bias; also in this case participation rates were very high, with almost 600 participants.

For over 25 years, we have been supporting the LGBT+ community globally in our company. We are convinced that everyone has the right to work in an open and welcoming workplace, and that this is a necessary condition to guarantee personal growth and the success of the group.

I myself am proud to be an ally and to be able to contribute to ensuring that all employees can feel authentically themselves in the company. Each voice is important, and the more voices are expressed in favour of diversity and against discrimination, the more inclusive our culture will be, in the company and in society. We are not all the same: the highest form of respect resides in the recognition of differences, a dynamic of welcoming others as an essential basis for an evolving culture. Our responsibility is to ensure equal opportunities, so that everyone can feel free to express themselves, thus offering new perspectives to better respond to the needs of patients and the demands of our consumers around the world.

Fabio Palermo

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