The state of LGBTQ+ affairs in the Philippine workplace

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Members of the LGBTQ community pose for a photo as they hold a rainbow flag during a Pride March in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
Members of the LGBTQ community pose for a photo as they hold a rainbow flag during a Pride March in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David

There is no denying it anymore: The Pride movement continues to grow and more people are becoming aware of the LGBTQ+ community. This is good in the context of work as more employers are seeing the need for visible efforts when it comes to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, collectively referred to as DE&I.

But it is not yet time for us to sit back and give ourselves five stars; the Pride movement, while there have been some milestones to celebrate, still has got a long way to go. This is true especially now that we are still in a pandemic, which put many LGBTQ+ employees at a disadvantage.

A March 2021 research by the United States-based Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focusing on national health issues in the U.S., concluded that a larger share of LGBTQ+ adults compared to non-LGBTQ+ adults had experienced COVID-era job loss (56% versus 44%), while three-fourths of the LGBTQ+ people (74%) said worry and stress from the pandemic had had a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 49% of those who were non-LGBTQ+.

In the Philippines, while more employers have been making great strides in their DE&I efforts, many companies remain discriminatory against their queer employees. A BusinessWorld report published in October 2020 said that gender discrimination remains an underlying concern for many LGBTQ+ employees and many companies still lack anti-discrimination policies in the workplace.

This is why continuing to push the discourse on why LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the workplace matters is important not just every June when many parts of the world celebrate Pride Month. A company with more aware employees becomes more diverse, equal, and inclusive – making the workplace safer and more accepting for queer employees.

What does commitment to DE&I do to business?

TaskUs Philippines - DO NOT USE
TaskUs has long been providing healthcare benefits to same-sex partners of their queer employees. They worked with insurance providers to develop plans that guarantee equitable coverage for all employees and their partners. (Photo: TaskUs)

For the likes of advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Philippines, consumer finance provider Home Credit Philippines, and outsourced digital services provider TaskUs Philippines, commitment to DE&I goes beyond June; it is something that they celebrate year-round.

"A diverse workforce where all perspectives are valued leads to richer experiences for our people and more culturally dialed-in work for our clients. Employees who feel safe, welcomed, supported, and valued for being their authentic selves are better able to do their best work," said Ogilvy Philippines's CEO Elly Puyat. "A diverse workforce is also essential to our success and sustainability as a business."

Building a strong DE&I offering has become not just a nice-to-have but an important business consideration, too, especially for multinationals and publicly-listed companies. This is why some of Ogilvy's clients chose to partner with them, said Puyat, because of the latter's expertise in making the creative work not only authentic but also representative and inclusive, in shaping an important brand messaging such as in the themes of DE&I.

“As brand builders and marketers, we have the privilege of shaping culture, and that privilege comes with the important responsibility of inclusive representation of all voices and identities," said Puyat, referencing essential words by the global Ogilvy leadership's message on DE&I. "Over the years we have had the opportunity to work on incredible campaigns that have put the LGBTQ+ community front and center."

Meanwhile, Ken Lerona, Home Credit Philippines’s Head of Public Relations, stressed that because their products and services reach out to the majority of Filipinos who come from diverse backgrounds and needs, DE&I has long been at the core of their brand.

A diverse workforce where all perspectives are valued leads to richer experiences for our people and more culturally dialed-in work for our clients. Employees who feel safe, welcomed, supported, and valued for being their authentic selves are better able to do their best work.Elly Puyat, Ogilvy Philippines

"We believe in having different individuals who value one another regardless of race, skills, intellect, talent, and seniority," he added

Lerona has a point; a recent Linkedin report revealed that more companies in the Asia-Pacific region posted content with themes related to DE&I between July 2019 to June 2020; the Australian users were recorded to be the most responsive to posts related to DE&I with a 208-percent engagement score. The Filipino users, meanwhile, scored 117%.

But the efforts of talking about DE&I do not only fall in the hand of the employers. In fact, the same LinkedIn report showed that the employees themselves are key to driving conversations about DE&I. In this metric, Filipino employees are the highest with a score of 172.14% on the year-over-year growth of employees posting about DE&I.

Simply put: Having DE&I at the core of business should no longer be just an option or an added bonus. More employees are already proactively looking for diverse, equal, and inclusive companies, and more clients are already more conscious of a partner’s commitment to DE&I.

DE&I programs and policies in the workplace

Home Credit Philippines - DO NOT USE
Home Credit Philippines has an anti-discrimination and anti-sexual harassment policy in place. Proper channels and committees are present in their workplace to protect employees' confidentiality against any breaches in the said policies. (Photo: Home Credit Philippines)

With generational shifts come preferential shifts in the workplace. A January 2020 survey by recruitment consultancy company Monster showed that 83% of candidates from Generation Z (those born from 1997 onwards) said that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer – and Gen Z is set to comprise 37% of the global workforce this year, outranking older generations.

This is why it is already a must for employers to be proactive in strengthening their respective DE&I programs and policies in place – from all-gender facilities and gender training to healthcare benefits and anti-discrimination policies. A company’s commitment to DE&I can have a huge effect on its bottom line.

In terms of employee healthcare benefits, for one, employees and dependents in the Philippines usually have to provide legal documents that prove relationships (such as a marriage certificate for spouses) to be granted the health card. Many LGBTQ+ couples, however, do not have these legal documents that verify their relationship as legal partners.

This is why TaskUs has long been providing healthcare benefits to same-sex partners of their queer employees. They worked with insurance providers to develop plans that guarantee equitable coverage for all employees and their partners.

They also launched the voluntary self-identification initiative, where their employees can self-identify their Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) and use their preferred names and pronouns in their formal and informal communications and even in their employment records.

Starting with anti-discrimination policies may seem so basic but the fact that we are stating that we do not discriminate sends a very powerful message to employees. We need these policies in place, for sure, but they will be nothing if we do not create a safe space for our LGBTQ+ employees.Ana Marfil, TaskUs

In most workplaces, restrooms and sleeping quarters are divided into two: one for male and another for female employees, based on people's sex at birth. But at TaskUs, there are all-gender male and all-gender female restrooms and sleeping quarters that are based on gender, not sex.

“Starting with anti-discrimination policies may seem so basic but the fact that we are stating that we do not discriminate sends a very powerful message to employees. We need these policies in place, for sure, but they will be nothing if we do not create a safe space for our LGBTQ+ employees," said Ana Marfil, TaskUs's Senior Director for Diversity & Inclusion, during a roundtable discussion on Pride that was live-streamed on Rappler on June 28. "Having these policies in place provides a safe space for them to be themselves, to come out and be who they are and be appreciated regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity."

Home Credit Philippines makes its commitment to DE&I visible and transparent right at the beginning, during an aspiring employee's application.

"Our job postings are consciously worded in a gender-neutral way. This is why we have mandatory training for our hiring managers and interviewers on how to conduct effective, proper, and unbiased interviews," noted Lerona. "Since our workforce is very much inclusive, it may as well be possible that interviewers are also members of the LGBTQ+ community, which overtly manifests that we hire only the best candidates regardless of their SOGIE."

They also have an anti-discrimination and anti-sexual harassment policy in place. Proper channels and committees are present in their workplace to protect employees' confidentiality against any breaches in the said policies.

While all these are impressive, Lerona noted that it is yet too early to celebrate these initiatives. He said, "Despite this, we know much is left to be done and we continue to push for more inclusive initiatives where they are needed.”

We take care to ensure that we continue to build an inclusive environment and a culture where multiple voices are heard, and employees’ opinions are valued and considered.Elly Puyat, Ogilvy Philippines

Puyat highlighted that all employees at Ogilvy are required to take a workshop on Belonging, Ethics, and Gender sensitivity on their first day with Ogilvy and refresher training is mandatory each year; they have training on unconscious biases and microaggressions, among others. Aside from these mandatory training, they also hold annual SOGIE 101 sessions to encourage acceptance and allyship.

Ogilvy also offers a host of employee well-being programs to ensure that they get to address the holistic needs – physical, spiritual, emotional, and social – of their employees. "We place importance on this because it shapes nearly every aspect of everyday life. Through understanding the principles of science and its applications in our life, we can reach an optimal level of wellness which will help us stay on track and move forward down the path towards a fulfilling life," said Puyat.

She noted, "Across Ogilvy Philippines, we take care to ensure that we continue to build an inclusive environment and a culture where multiple voices are heard, and employees’ opinions are valued and considered. We ensure our leaders model diversity and inclusion, and that there is accountability at the leadership level."

‘The finish line is not yet in sight’

Members of the LGBT community join a Pride March in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
Members of the LGBT community join a Pride March in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, June 25, 2022. (Photo: Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

The Philippine workforce cannot say just yet that what society, in general, has done is enough because the Pride movement still has a long way to go. LGBTQ+ rights advocates and allies refuse to rest on their laurels and be content with what they have done so far. The finish line is not yet in sight.

But it does not hurt to give credit to the likes of Ogilvy, Home Credit, and TaskUs that continue to develop their respective DE&I programs and policies in the workplace. When an employer makes a stand about an important issue such as LGBTQ+ inclusivity, many people from their organization will follow. That is what the Pride movement is all about, anyway: making a stand and amplifying the voices of those who continue to be discriminated against and deprived of basic human rights.

Scores from Ogilvy's questions related to inclusivity from their 2021 Philippine Agency Team Pulse Survey showed that 94 out of 100 employees said that "My company is committed to creating an inclusive work culture" and "People on my team trust and respect each other"; 93 out of 100 said that "My manager creates an inclusive work environment"; and 90 out of 100 said, "I can be my authentic self at work without fear of discrimination."

"Our promise to all our employees is that as they build their careers with Ogilvy, they will be seen and heard that the agency will continue to implement policies and programs that are specific and impactful to them, and that we will continue to foster a sense of community," said Puyat.

She also shared that the global Ogilvy's leadership always emphasizes to all of their employees that their commitment to DE&I should not just be a monthly Pride campaign.

“Ogilvy Pride employee resource groups across the company do much year-round to foster an inclusive workplace culture. They provide spaces for our LGBTQ+ employees to connect, grow and thrive as professionals while contributing to the agency's overall success through client work, and do it all by being their true authentic selves," they said.

While DE&I has always been a part of our practice, we acknowledge that there are necessary and foundational steps to fully integrate DE&I in our end-to-end processes and in our employees’ and clients’ day-to-day.Ken Lerona, Home Credit Philippines

TaskUs, meanwhile, has a 70 employee Net Promoter Score and a 4.6 score on Glassdoor. Their commitment to DE&I also got them some awards such as the Gold Stevie Award for Company of the Year (2022), Comparably’s Best Global Culture, Best Company Outlook (2022), Best Company for Diversity (2020-2021), Silver Stevie Award for DE&I (2021), and was an honoree in San Antonio Business Journal’s Diversity & Inclusion Awards (2021).

Marfil stressed the importance of mitigating biases in ourselves as a critical goal of every company policy on DE&I. “From there, we can change a lot of things and we can make a safer space not only for our LGBTQ+ community but for everyone,” she said.

As for Home Credit, they are currently undergoing the Gender Equality Assessment, Results, and Strategies (GEARS), an assessment tool that hopes to analyze and understand the current state of Workplace Gender Equality within the company. The data that they will collect from GEARS will serve as a baseline of information that they will be able to use to create policies, guidelines, and projects to help improve their DE&I practices.

Lerona said, "While DE&I has always been a part of our practice, we acknowledge that there are necessary and foundational steps to fully integrate DE&I in our end-to-end processes and in our employees’ and clients’ day-to-day.”

Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who writes in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications. He covers cultures, media, and gender.

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