CULTURE

What does a ‘safe workplace’ look like for LGBTQ+ employees?

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Making gender neutral restrooms and giving health card benefits for life partners are some of the ways that workplaces can make their LGBTQ+ employees feel included, respected and valued. Photos from TASKUS and P&G PHILIPPINES

The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry was still very young when Chin Monsale started working around 20 years ago, and the culture in the call center had a standard of a “leader” that was formal, sharp, and bossy.

But Monsale, who worked her way up from a teammate or a call-center agent to currently vice president of operations, was not that kind of leader.

“[People's] respect [to me] is there, the authority is there. Pero hindi siya 'yung para sa typical VP na, you know, very corporate, very formal. So yeah, I am a cool VP because I like to wear suits at work but with a little bit of 'Oomph!' I guess,” she said, during a video-call with CNN Philippines Life.

Monsale’s gender identity and expression, self-identifying as bisexual, she thought, made people around her uncomfortable. “I have [felt] in the earlier years of my career [that] people have doubted the level of leadership that [I] have because of certain aspects of having to stereotype leaders during that time.”

But these struggles, at least for her, are now a thing of the past. Monsale now works in the BPO company TaskUs as the Vice President of Operations in the company’s new Bohol site. TaskUs is a BPO company that provides services such as digital customer experience, content security, AI operations, and consulting, among others. The company prides itself on also being a staunch supporter of its employees who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The struggles of being an LGBTQ+ employee

Margaux Romero, a trans woman, recalls in her previous company while working as a teammate or a call-center agent: “Mayroon kasing tatlong uri ng bathroom doon: male, female, and PWD. I tried to go inside the females’ restroom but naka-receive ako ng memo na [trans women] are not allowed to go [there]. Instead, [I had to use] the PWDs restroom,” she recalls. “Can you imagine that? The struggle, the pain of just [going to the] restroom, gagamit ka ng PWD restroom?”

Margaux Romero recalled that working in a conservative workplace limited her career growth as a trans woman. Photo courtesy of TASKUS

“Napapaisip ako: Is this a disability? Is there something wrong with being who I am? I’m just being me – me! – a trans woman. Pero bakit when they look at me, para bang may disability ako?”

And it happens not just in the restroom.

“Ang ID namin doon is mayroong badge na [kapag] pumasok ka sa females’ sleeping quarters, hindi ka makakapasok as a trans woman,” shares Romero, referring to her previous company’s sleeping quarters which are usually included in the office layout of many call centers, given their round-the-clock operations. “‘Yung badge namin, nakalagay doon kung ano ‘yung gender marker mo sa birth certificate; ang aking gender marker sa birth certificate ay male.” Therefore, if she wanted to sleep, she had to do it in the men’s sleeping quarters.

Romero never – not even once – dared enter the men’s sleeping quarters to take even just a five-minute nap “kahit na sobrang antok na antok na ako,” she says. “Super naka-affect talaga siya [sa productivity ko]. Mayroon tayong mga time na papasok tayo sa work na puyat, na pagod, na need natin ng kahit kaunting pahinga. Pero dahil ganoon nga ‘yung company na iyon, pinipigilan ko na lang talaga ‘yung antok. More coffee na lang para lang magising ako.”

Gender-neutral restrooms for employees. Photo courtesy of TASKUS

Romero did not stay long in that company. She then moved to TaskUs as a teammate. Sooner, she was able to climb the corporate ladder with the support of her new employer; she is now the Engagement Team Lead in their Anonas site. "[In] my past company, feeling ko hindi ako magi-improve doon. Feeling ko hindi ako maggo-grow as a person. But here at TaskUs, they proved to me in just six months, 'Girl, ito ka na! Magti-TL ka na!' Hindi ko po talaga inexpect."

Modern-day policies and benefits in the workplace

Aside from TaskUs, consumer goods brand Procter & Gamble (P&G) Philippines is also one of the companies that provide more contemporary benefits to their LGBTQ+ employees. “We have built equal and equitable access into systems, policies and practices across talent development, compensation and benefits, accessibility, and policy, so employees have a truly inclusive workplace experience at P&G,” assures Vince Dizon, Country HR Leader.

This includes what they call internally as "Share the Care" parental leave program, which allows for 8 weeks of fully paid leave for all parents (not just mothers), including LGBTQ+ adoptive parents. Same-sex domestic partners also have equal access to the company's benefits such as healthcare and medical plans, insurances, and loans. P&G is also an annual supporter of the Pride March and holds an annual Pride Summit to educate and inspire inclusion and allyship.

"It is critical to champion equality and inclusion so each [employee] can bring their full, authentic selves to work, perform at their peak, and deliver the best results," says Dizon.

P&G Philippines employees at the 2019 Metro Manila Pride March. Photo courtesy of P&G PHILIPPINES

Meanwhile, TaskUs also provides HMO benefits not just to their LGBTQ+ employees but also their partners. “I think we are one of the very first companies in the Philippines that actually provided HMO for LGBTQ+ partners because that's not common, 'di ba?”, says Victoria Alcachupas, Vice President for Business Development, Corporate Marketing, Global Communications & People Branding, referring to how, typically, employees and dependents have to provide legal documents that prove relationships (such as a marriage certificate for spouses) to be given the health card. For many LGBTQ+ couples, however, they do not have these legal documents that verify their relationship as life partners.

TaskUs also recently launched a self-identification initiative that allows employees to voluntarily identify their SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression); employees can use their preferred names and pronouns in their formal and informal communications and even in their official ID and corporate email address. “Simple policies [like] that mean a lot to our employees. It means that they're accepted,” says Alcachupas.

Also, the call center provides gender-neutral restrooms in all their sites; employees can use the comfort room according to the gender they identify with without fear of getting harassed and/or discriminated against. ““I'm happy to be part of a company that [have] gender-inclusive bathrooms. That's the start. I want them to be able to get to a place where as simple as taking a leak is safe,” shares Monsale.

"We work on eliminating the biases that prevent employees from being their best selves at work and barriers that prevent them from having an equal opportunity to succeed in P&G," says Dizon. "When employees feel included, respected and valued, they are able to spend their time and energy more productively."

P&G Philippines hosts an annual Pride Summit to educate and inspire inclusion and allyship. Photo courtesy of P&G PHILIPPINES

Alcachupas hopes that their progressive programs and policies can influence at least the entire BPO industry. In fact, several other BPO companies have also started providing HMO benefits to their LGBTQ+ employees’ partners after TaskUs did so. “It doesn't just benefit our employees but the whole [LGBTQ+] community as well. So kung pare-pareho kami na ganoon ang pino-provide namin sa employees ng BPO sector, that would be very good, 'di ba?”

Why is a diverse, inclusive workplace important?

For SOGIE equality advocate and educator Queenmelo Esguerra, also a trans woman, these initiatives are also educating everybody else in the workplace about the idea of SOGIE. "Kailangan maintindihan ng lahat that SOGIE is not just for LGBTQ+ community; lahat tayo ay may SOGIE," she says. "We learn from being in these workplaces that we don't describe a 'straight man' as a 'normal man,' because a 'gay man' is not an 'abnormal man.' I think that’s a good start."

Donn Gaba, a resident counselor at UP Diliman Gender Office and a member of the LGBT special interest group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines, believes that many people remain skeptical about discourses on SOGIE because, generally, we still live in a hetero-centric society that still identifies gender to sex. "All humans are not comfortable with complicating things,” he says.“We don't like that. The human brain tends to want to simplify things because it makes it more efficient in processing. Putting the elements of SOGIE and gender — where traditionally it's always been just ‘man’ and ‘woman’ — our minds [become] quite resistant to this complication."

Chin Monsale has been the Vice President of Operations in the Bohol site of TaskUs since 2020. Photo courtesy of TASKUS

Gaba calls the attention of corporate leaders to recognize that each person is different and employers are not supposed to put them in boxes or, worse, put them in the wrong box. "You are dealing with human resources; these are humans eh, and one of the important aspects of being a human is their sexuality," says Gaba. "So kung ipagkakait mo ang mga bagay that are supposedly essential to their identity, you are impacting their well-being."

Dizon notes that they impose these LGBTQ+-centered programs and policies to see a healthier employee engagement and culture. As P&G's Country HR Lead, he believes that "when employees feel engaged and are supported, have the access and opportunity to succeed, and feel encouraged to bring their full authentic selves to work, it creates meaningful impact in building the business and the organization and in driving growth and value creation."

“You will find [that] not everybody is a supporter; not everybody can embrace the fact that they cannot put a label on you,” says Monsale. When asked what, for her, is the ideal work environment, she pictures a workplace where respect is abundant. "It's not about [respect to] any gender but it's really [about] the individual transforming themselves [in] a work environment where work ethics neutralizes everybody.”

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*Some quotes are shortened or modified for brevity and clarity.