The starting ripple in workplace equality
One of my first jobs in Manila was at an American call center company in Ortigas where I worked as a technical support agent. Shortly after I started, my male coworkers decided that my being an out-and-proud lesbian was too much to take. They "jokingly" dragged me to the men's room because they said they wanted to check whether I was a boy or a girl. Fortunately I broke free of their grip, but the more disturbing part was that my female supervisor told me that since I was the one who was gay, I should be the one to adjust. I left the company that day, and have told this story and said the name of that company a hundred times. The company is still around as the biggest and oldest Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) firm in the country.
Others do not have the luxury of leaving their jobs when they get harassed. Some even agree that to be gay in a workplace means discrimination is part of the job. In a country where an anti-discrimination bill is way behind a basic reproductive health bill, the message to LGBTQs is that they should just suck up the hostility in work environments. It's already difficult to expect better treatment for gays in a society when women still do not get what they are due. It’s even more unimaginable that LGBT employees would get equal pay and benefits for equal work.
Enter Thomson Reuters, which announced last weekthat they will be providing equal benefits to same-sex partners. This is an unprecedented development in the Philippines, where for the first time a private company has openly decided to be a fair employer. Thomson Reuters announced that not only do they have their LGBT employees' backs, they care for their partners and families too.
An American Company
Of course some might say, "But Thomson Reuters is an American company. My Filipino-owned company will never allow that." Oh, but they will consider it once their top talents leave their posts to go to Thomson Reuters and like-minded organizations. They will realize that to attract topnotch people, companies will need to give the best benefits and show they are progressive and fair employers. I guarantee you that Thomson Reuters' announcement will mark its name in the minds of every young person within and outside that industry. They will gain infamy just like Google has the reputation of treating its employees well.
In the US, it is no longer unusual for big companies to provide same-sex benefits. Companies such as Google and Bank of America even went as far as paying back their married same-sex employees the amount they paid the government in taxes for benefits that weren't recognized before the DOMA repeal. In New York, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch sponsor large LGBT pride events every few months to assert their presence in the corporate world, and to present themselves as inclusive workplaces for ambitious young people.
It has been proven in other countries that a company that is inclusive and treats its employees equally regardless of their sexual orientation is viewed favorably, and that being an LGBT-safe space is a great marketing edge. It is very attractive to the smartest and most forward-looking minds when a workplace is known for ensuring the equal treatment of minorities.
Advantages of gay employees
Especially in the Philippines' BPO industry, gay employees are valued not only because of their hard work, but also because they typically don't have families, have few or no children, and are the less likely to take leave from work due to an unplanned pregnancy or childcare issues. These lack of constraints make them more amenable to work the US or UK hours required by their companies’ accounts. Many Filipino gay and lesbian professionals are independent from their parents, and most consider their workplaces more accepting than their home situations.
The percentage of LGBT employees in call centers and financial firms is also significant, making it important for firms to have adequate representation of this minority. Thomson Reuters employee Bien Soberano told me that nearly half of his division's members are gay, many are partnered, and some are even raising children.
"This is groundbreaking, to say the least. Very few companies are as brave or as liberal as Thomson Reuters," Soberano said. In the memo Thomson Reuters employees received in July, they were informed that same-sex couples will be able to avail of healthcare, life insurance and retirement benefits equal to their heterosexual counterparts. Same-sex couples and their families no longer have to rely on their own savings while heterosexual couples enjoy company-sponsored benefits. At least in Thomson Reuters world, all families are treated equally.
Global Pride at Work, an employee resource group for Thomson Reuters' LGBT employees worldwide, worked closely with the Manila office's Human Resources department to make the Philippines the first country in Asia where the company provides these benefits. Since then, similar initiatives in India have been implemented with positive results.
Local workplace equality initiatives
Dette Armada, an associate at Deutsche Knowledge Services (DKS) and the co-chair of their LGBT resource group dbPride, said that their group has been in talks with its regional head to provide the same benefits in their Manila office.
"This is something I will continue to push and will definitely wait for as an employee of DKS," she said. According to Armada, an employee inter-company network called Philippine Financial Industry Pride (PFIP) was formally launched on October 9th of this year and includes the core LGBT groups of HSBC, Thomson Reuters, DKS, Wells Fargo, and ANZ Bank. This network aims to push for equal and fair treatment of LGBT employees in their respective companies, an effort where Thomson Reuters has become the pioneer.
PFIP is also in the process of including Capital One, Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank as part of their network. The next step will be to strengthen LGBT employee resource groups in local banks so they can join the initiative as well.
It is evident that solid efforts are underway at least for the financial industry in the Philippines to treat its employees equally regardless of sexual orientation. It's only a matter of time before we see this manifest in more workplaces in the country.
Could it be that the discrimination and harassment I experienced over a decade ago is a thing of the past? Of course, gays in the workplace will continue to face more risks than their heterosexual counterparts, but the firm implementation of company policies and sanctions show LGBT employees that they at least have some protections.
It's still a long way to go before the Philippine government genuinely shows its LGBT taxpayers that they are equal to other citizens under law. But in a country where the private sector takes more credible initiative and whose moves make a more reliable impact on Filipinos' daily lives, the actions of Thomson Reuters and the Philippine Financial Industry Pride network as advocates of gay rights are a huge step towards that elusive concept of equality in Philippine society. – Rappler.com
Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours creating ripples in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on www.Facebook.com/sisonshakira.
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