There is much talk about employee engagement in business, and at SAP we have a strong focus on such initiatives. One of the most engaging such projects I’ve had the privilege to be involved with is a grassroots effort that launches today — Thursday, June 7, 2012: the SAP Employees: It Gets Better film release.
Are you “out” at work? By this, I don’t just mean are you openly gay or transgendered. Are you your full self? Are you your best self?
Many of us in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community are only all-too-familiar with minimizing our true selves, and thereby our full potential, at work. In Angelika Dammann’s recent article “‘Coming out’ shouldn’t cost your career” (in German), she cites:
According to a University of Cologne survey of 2230 gays and lesbians in 2007, one out of every two gay and lesbian employees conceals their sexual orientation at work for fear of misunderstanding and discrimination. Three-quarters of gays and lesbians have experienced discrimination; one-tenth have even been exposed to physical aggression.
Not only are there closeted corporate cultures, but there remains much pressure at home. The facts are:
- There are many places in the world where it’s illegal to be gay – or worse, you could be put to death
- Students report being frequently targeted, bullied, and harassed based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Nearly three-quarters of students hear homophobic remarks such as “faggot”, “dyke”, and “gay” frequently at school
- In U.S. surveys, lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents and adults have two to six times higher rates of reported suicide attempts compared to comparable straight people. Among transgender people the rates of suicide attempts are markedly high
These facts can lead to tragic consequences for our youngest and most vulnerable as they evaluate their future careers and futures in general, and a national conversation about bullying in particular in the LGBT community.
THE ULTIMATE LOSS
It’s no wonder that many go to work every day with the message that they better leave a large part of themselves at home. This not only leads to great loss of productivity, but is a great loss in many other ways including of potential future colleagues and leaders. And this is not good enough for a global organization such as SAP, where diversity and innovation are key to thriving and sustaining in the future.
Few know this better than Steve Fehr, Vice President, Aerospace Defense Segment, SAP Public Services. On January 1, 2012, his 18-year-old son Jeffrey Fehr made the heartbreaking decision that he could no longer go on living and took his own life. He had recently graduated from high school where he was a pioneer as the first male cheerleader. He was well loved by his friends and his family, and was a bright light and inspiration for countless peers. He was also an out gay youth who had endured years of teasing and bullying. Jeff had already been a model for his peers; he could have been our future colleague. The loss is untold, unimaginable.
As Steve said:
Jeff chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem not realizing the pain, heartache and agony he was leaving behind. Please do not do that to the ones who love you the most. Please reach out for help now to the many resources available.
Galvanized by this story, over 40 SAP employees volunteered to appear in an It Gets Better film, and over 100 were directly involved in making this grassroots effort a success. The film premieres today at SAP Labs in Palo Alto and on SAP’s YouTube channel.
WHAT IS IT GETS BETTER?
The It Gets Better Project, founded in September 2010, is a collection of over 50,000 videos submitted by individuals, celebrities, employees, and organizations in response to an increase in suicides of LGBT teens or those perceived to be gay or different. The goal of the videos is to counter bullying influences by telling personal stories about how life gets better – to offer hope by speaking directly to people at-risk of suicide. In the SAP employee It Gets Better film, my colleagues and I share personal stories to urge those struggling with being different that “It will – It can – It does get better” – and we can and must help make it so.
“Being different is not always easy”, said SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe in the film, but, “My company has been built on innovation. We welcome different. We value different.”
Being different can be hard enough in the US at present, but what about in other countries with harsh penalties noted above? Says out gay SAP executive Jan Grasshoff, SVP, Head of Talent Leadership and Organizational Design, who also appears in the film:
There are different kinds of cultures including country cultures and corporate cultures. At SAP, we have a strong corporate culture. Diversity is something that we at SAP have to live across the globe in all our subsidiaries and all our countries. We recognize that in different countries there are different regulations, cultural backgrounds, behaviors, and levels of acceptance. We at SAP cannot try to adjust ourselves to each and every country’s regulations. We have to live one culture, and our one culture and one SAP is all about inclusion and embracing diversity. As one SAP, we have to live this consistently across the company.
In releasing this film, SAP employees are taking pride in our workplace to a new level and in a very personal way, and we are telling not only our coworkers, but a community of future talent that we need you to hang in there. You may be interested in going into technology – you may be a software engineer, an accountant, a business analyst, a project manager, an administrator — you may be something we’ve never even heard of yet. And you can have a bright future and the career of your dreams. We need to be a model for you for that future as much as we need you in that future.
RUN BETTER. BRING YOUR BEST SELF
Being your best self is about “coming out” about who you are, including LGBT, as much as it is about treating different people with respect and kindness. Nowhere is this clearer than in our huge global enterprise software company SAP. We must all make a difference, and by valuing difference, strive to not only bring our best selves to work, but to put an end to bullying and reach out and help those who may be suffering. Our future depends on it – and you may be close to a coworker today who in a very real way depends on it. Make the difference.