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Committing to Change: Supporting LGBTQ+ Pride in Australia

June 13, 2022

In early 2020, Abt’s team in Australia and Asia Pacific set up six internal Working Groups to improve our ability to attract and retain diverse talent and to make our workspace one in which all staff can thrive and be their whole selves at work.  We asked one of our executives to join each group and I was lucky enough to join the LGBTIQ+ working group. I wanted to join this group because I have lived and worked in many different countries and have seen first hand the discrimination and bias LGBTIQ+ people face in their communities and professional lives.  Even in Australia, where same sex marriage was legalized in 2017, discrimination remains.  

One of my key learnings is that it is worth taking the time to listen to the stories of staff within the LGBTIQ+ community.  One very senior Australian staff member, who has been with his partner for decades, explained to me that every time he meets someone new, he still has to weigh how open he is about his husband.  That shocked me, in part because talking about my family is how I quickly connect with and establish rapport with people I don’t know well.  My colleague can’t automatically do this and, of course, that signals a deeper awareness of the hostility that LGBTIQ+ staff still face every day. 

Abt’s LGBTIQ+ staff who live in developing countries face even bigger barriers. In many countries it is illegal to be anthing other than cisgender, and our staff need to hide their sexuality or face very severe consequences. Further complicating things, quite a number of Abt staff in these counties say our inclusion agenda contradicts their religious beliefs and the law. Promoting inclusion in these circumstances is both challenging and necessary. 

First, it is critical to connect our LGBTIQ+ staff to safe services and enact supporting policies. For colleagues in these countries, we have established a new group called Pride@Abt, which is limited to members of the LGBTIQ+ community and in which participation is private.  This creates a safe forum for our staff to support each other. 

It is also important that leaders at Abt continue to communicate respectfully but clearly why, for Abt, inclusion of LGBTIQ+ staff everywhere is non-negotiable.  We are lucky to have staff living in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Timor Leste in our LGBTIQ+ Working Group, and they have given me great advice on how to make sure the language I use engages people rather than inflaming tensions, which only makes life harder for our LGBTIQ+ staff.

While challenging bias and discrimination can be hard, it can also be very rewarding.  Keeping the agenda positive and focused on practical action we can take has been helpful. We have also played to our organization’s strengths.  As employees of a mission-driven company, our staff really care about inequality and injustice.  Educating our staff about injustice within LGBTIQ+ communities has been a powerful tool of engagement.  We also try and keep the agenda fun: Wear it Purple days, designing great rainbow backgrounds for our teams meetings—especially in and around special days or months that focus on LGBTIQ+ celebrations—has been joyful.

Two and a half years into our journey, being part of our LGBTIQ+ working group remains one of the highlights of my job.  I love being part of this group that works hard to improve acceptance and remove barriers for our talented LGBTIQ+ staff.  I still have a long way to go, but I have already learnt so much about effective allyship and the barriers to delivering true inclusion.  I urge everyone to get involved, listen, learn and look at how you can take action to improve inclusion within your sphere of influence.  Change can be slower than we want, but it happens if we each commit!

Focus Areas
Australia & Asia Pacific
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