South African LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) entrepreneurs, business owners and employees came together to flex their economic muscle on Tuesday at the country’s first landmark LGBTI Business Summit.
The event was convened by the PLUS LGBTI+ Business Network, supported by The Other Foundation, and is a first for South Africa and the continent. Several South African and multinational companies partnered with PLUS to host the summit, including Absa, EY, Shell, Uber and others, as well as the South African LGBT+ Management Forum.
The event, held at Absa’s Equinox Leadership and Innovation Centre in Sandton, saw over 120 role-players, including business people, employers and employees, activists and trade unionists gathering in the country’s business hub to formulate strategies and interventions to improve the economic power of the LGBTI community.
“The South African LGBTI Business Summit was an unprecedented success,” commented PLUS Interim Chairperson, Zini Godden. “It was not about LGBTI people wanting special treatment, it is about equal treatment. It is all about inclusion, not prioritisation, and making sure that we too have a seat at the table.”
The day consisted of a series of panel discussions that addressed topics such as: The commercial case for LGBTI inclusion; the neglected power of the Pink Rand; assessing LGBTI empowerment within transformation regulations; empowering suppliers and employees; assessing corporate supply chains; opportunities for LGBTI entrepreneur development; and the role of trade unions and employee affinity groups. There was also the rare opportunity to network and meet fellow LGBTI entrepreneurs and engage with key industry players.
Speakers and panellists included high profile businesses executives and influencers from a range of sectors, including Lindiwe Zikhali (Head of Transformation & Regulatory Affairs at Anglo American); Jeanine Ferreira (Executive Head – Segment Marketing at Vodacom); Dion Chang (Flux Trends); Xhanti Payi (Nascence Advisory & Research); and Sebastian Preston, (Contracts & Procurement at Shell South Africa), just to name a few.
Human rights figures were also in attendance, such as Gail Smith (Head of Advocacy and Communications at the SAHRC) and Fabrice Houdart (Human Rights Officer at the United Nations), as were representatives from the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union and the SA Ex-Mineworkers Association. The event was closed off by the inspirational Phuti Mahanyele (Executive Chairperson of Sigma Capital and 2014 ForbesWoman Africa Business Woman of the Year.)
The broad consensus at the summit was that LGBTI people continue to be marginalised and excluded from economic opportunities because of their identities, presentation and expression. It was further acknowledged that LGBTI employees also face discrimination and bias in the workplace which limits their ability to access employment and opportunities. It was also agreed that LGBTI economic inclusion and empowerment are not just good for social cohesion and democracy building but also make good business sense.
The importance of ensuring that the impact of the summit on the LGBTI community is not simply felt among existing business owners or employees working in corporate head offices was stressed by Godden. “The economic upliftment of LGBTI people must also apply to those who work on the factory floor and at the tills of supermarkets, as well as aspiring young entrepreneurs in the rural areas,” she said.
The summit was followed by another important milestone that evening; the launch of South Africa’s first Workplace Equality Index (SAWEI), which seeks to measure participating companies’ progress in ensuring an inclusive, safe and affirming workplace for LGBTI people. A total of 17 trailblazing companies representing six different sectors and employing over 30,000 people participated in the index, which was compiled by the South African LGBT+ Management Forum.
For more information about PLUS and to apply to become a member, visit the website at www.lgbtiplus.com.