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Multinational companies in Kenya can do much more to make LGBT staff feel safe

Ground-breaking survey of staff at big companies in Kenya reveals some progress, but situation among smaller, local businesses far more discriminatory

Multinational companies in Kenya can do much more to make LGBT staff feel safe
Ninara | CreativeCommons
Nairobi, Kenya

A ground-breaking study has been issued on LGBT workplace diversity and inclusion in Kenya.

The study’s authors believe it to be the first of its kind in the county, if not all sub-Saharan Africa.

Kenya is far from being regarded as gay-friendly and same-sex sexual activity is against the law. Only this week, the Kenyan Parliament voted down a bill that would have punished homosexual activity with death by stoning.

As it is, such activity remains punishable with a 14-year prison sentence. LGBT issues also remain largely taboo among Kenyan society at large, and LGBT people who come out are routinely disowned by their families.

Unsurprisingly, there are no workplace discrimination protections for LGBT people.

The study – State of LGBT Workplace Diversity Among Multinational Corporations In Kenya – was undertaken by international development organization Hivos and the Nairobi-based Sullivan Marketing.

They approached 30 multinational companies to take part, and ten agreed to do so. From these ten, researchers surveyed 96 individuals.

Many large multinationals that have offices in Kenya have diversity and inclusion policies. However, the extent to which such policies are promoted or highlighted in countries such as Kenya remains a moot point.

The study’s authors have not named which companies participated, but confirmed to Gay Star Business that they were all Fortune 1000 businesses.

‘The study focused on multinational corporations drawn from Europe, Canada and the US and those that were likely to be featured on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index,’ said Levis Maina, CEO of Sullivan Marketing and author of the report.

‘This was deliberate to establish the extent to which those global inclusive policies trickle down or the impact of the global culture on the local Kenyan context; how easy is it for them to implement those policies?’

Among the studies key findings were:

  • Four out of ten (40.4%) strongly agreed that their employer should do more to ensure that LGBT employees feel comfortable being themselves at work.
  • When asked their opinion of Kenyan businesses in terms of LGBT diversity and inclusion, close to half (48.9%) rated the business poorly.
  • A significant 23.4% were unaware of Kenyan businesses efforts in terms of LGBT diversity and inclusion.
  • Almost 2 out of 5 (38%) have little or no awareness of their company’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies.
  • Over two-thirds (68.1%) of employees polled ‘strongly feel’ that companies that treat employees equally regardless of sexual orientation, race, culture or religion are more likely to be successful.
  • A majority of the respondents (57.4%) reveal that they strongly feel comfortable working and associating with LGBT co-workers.
  • Almost 8 out of 10 employees (78.7%) feel strongly that employees who are comfortable being who they are at work are more productive and there contribute to the success of the company.

‘Workplaces around the world are becoming aware about LGBT issues, an increasing number of global organizations are creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace culture as top priority, many of them have globally inclusive policies that include LGBT,’ said Maina.

‘However, in Kenya where homosexuality is a social taboo and same-sex conduct is criminalized, it becomes a challenge to implement inclusive global diversity policies.’

‘Additionally, the majority of Human Resources managers consider the language of their company as hardly ever inclusive of LGBT, again revealing that a lot of work needs to be done in creating safe spaces and non-offensive language for LGBT employees.’

Karen Hammink, Hivos’ Program Development Manager Sexual Rights & Diversity said that international companies had a large role to play in shaping the attitudes of its employees.

‘International companies can be important change agents in this matter. They understand and recognize the value of diversity on the workfloor. Their global policies ensure respect for diversity. But it is difficult for them to put these policies in practice in a country like Kenya, where there are legal barriers and stigmatizing sociocultural norms.’

The study was supported by the Netherland-based Workplace Pride Foundation. Its Executive Director, David Pollard said, ‘the results are not too surprising to me; however I think the findings will be a very useful tool for many organizations who want to have an impact across their international markets.’

The report carries recommendations for how the situation for LGBT employees can be improved through company efforts. These include diversity training and awareness campaigns, the development of ally and mentorship programs, and lobbying for legislative change.

The report was welcomed by the UK-based Kaleidoscope Trust, which lobbies for LGBT rights around the world. Felicity Daly, its Executive Director, said that that study, ‘illustrates the vital contribution that businesses can make to improve social norms around acceptance of LGBT people and highlights where more can be done to enhance business practice.

‘Evidence such as this is an important tool for LGBT and human rights advocates in Kenya, and elsewhere in Africa, as they try to persuade policy makers to see that inclusive societies promote economic growth.’

Speaking to Gay Star Business, Maina said that the situation for LGBT employees working in local Kenyan businesses was likely to be far more discriminatory, and that it was, ‘difficult to ever imagine they would be open to come out.

‘While the multinational corporation (MNC) employees could have policies as a fall back option, this is almost non-existent in local businesses.

‘Our intention is that we will conduct a similar study that focuses on local businesses and share some of the MNCs best practices with local players in order to influence both policy and practice. It would also be interesting to see how the attitudes of employees/employers differ and points of convergence.’

 

Main image: Nairobi by ninara licensed through CreativeCommons 2.0


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