Corporate South Africa comes out with 1st LGBT+ employee network

Teveshan Kuni

South Africa’s first LGBT+ network to support professionals of all sexual and gender identities in the workplace was launched on International Coming Out Day in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Called “The Forum”, the South African LGBT+ Management Forum aims to create an inclusive, safe and equitable workplace environment for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, by working with local businesses to promote and celebrate diversity in the workplace.

Chairperson Dylan van Vurren said that at least 4% of employees are LGBT+. “Yes, you do have queer people in your workplace,” he told the audience. “They may just not feel comfortable coming out – and that’s the problem.”

Among the initiatives announced by The Forum are plans to implement a South African Workplace Equality Index (SAWEI). Along the lines of similar indices in Canada, the US and the UK, SAWEI will benchmark the LGBT+ inclusivity and friendliness of companies on an annual basis.

“It’s a great vehicle for change,” The Forum’s Luke Andrews told the audience in Rosebank. He explained that in these countries companies compete to achieve good rankings on their respective indices, which in turn helps them to attract LGBT+ talent.

It’s time for corporate South Africa to catch up

“Every employee, regardless of their ‘otherness’, should be treated fairly,” commented Teveshan Kuni, spokesperson for The Forum. “It is now essential that business leaders set standards promoting inclusivity and diversity-based policies on sexual orientation and gender expression.”

Kuni said that studies have shown that LGBT+ staff in non-supportive environments tend to suffer from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. In addition, recent reports show there is a 15% higher likelihood of above industry average financial performance by companies who have gender diversity and a 17% higher chance that employees who were not out would leave their current employer due to lack of diversity in the workplace.

“We know we will really be successful when the Shoprite or Nando’s in small towns offer the same protection as their corporate offices in Sandton,” he said.

Continued Kuni, “Last year in Davos, we saw many Fortune 500 companies go public on LGBT+ support with 93% prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 75% having non-discrimination policies relating to gender identity – so there is a long way to go in South Africa.”

The Forum will also create resources and publications designed to support companies in developing more LGBT+-friendly workplaces and will offer networking opportunities to meet other LGBT+ professionals to build business networks.

Issues it will grapple with include how corporate South Africa addresses LGBT+ inclusivity and support for employees in countries where sexual and gender minorities are criminalised and persecuted.

“With people spending most of their working day outside of the home, we want to ensure all workplace environments are a safe space for people to be their authentic selves – regardless of their sexual orientation or identity,” said Kuni, “and we urge corporate South Africa to come out and contact us to become more inclusive.”

For more information about The Forum, including how to join or support the initiative, visit www.lgbtforum.org or like facebook.com/LGBTForum.

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