BT is the largest communications service provider in the UK. It is also one of the largest communication companies in the world, providing service to customers in more than 170 countries with an IP network that connects over 1,270 cities. Supporting this massive infrastructure are in the region of 100,000 employees spread across 63 countries.
In the course of their careers, many of these people will find themselves needing to travel the globe, sometimes on short-term business trips, sometimes on longer-term secondments or even permanently relocating to a new country. BT believes that as an employer it has a very strong responsibility to ensure that these people are informed, aware, supported and protected.
BT is hugely committed to diversity. It believes wholeheartedly that a diverse workforce is a fertile ground for new ideas, innovation and empathy with its customers. 2009 alone saw it recognised in the UK by the Employers Forum on Disability for its approaches for the disabled, Race for Opportunity on behalf of ethnic minorities and Opportunity Now for its gender-specific policies.
World-wide, it was awarded the Association of American Retired Persons (AARP) recognition for innovative approaches to the age agenda. But the Company was particularly delighted in 2009 to be recognised by the International Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (IGLCC) as the most gay-friendly organisation in the world when it topped their Business Equality Index.
Anne Heal, BT's senior champion for Sexual Orientation, said at the time, "BT will continue to look at ways in which we can ensure that our people can be 'who they are' at work without fear of discrimination or prejudice. The IGLCC award recognises our efforts to ensure that equality of opportunity is a reality in our business. The partnership with ILGA is a demonstration of this commitment.
The new initiative
The first of its kind, the website allows members to learn about crucial laws governing areas such as marriage, adoption, health and relationships, as well as providing information about the social climate of a country at any given time. The portal also provides a forum for travellers and residents to share personal experiences of life in that country.
Thanks to the combined know-how of both our organisations, we now have an eye-catching and user-friendly tool which will serve both the needs of BT in providing a reliable source of information for its employees, and of ILGA to reach out to its membership and the general public in an informative and direct way, said Renato Sabbadini, ILGAs secretary general.
BTs director of People and Policy, Caroline Waters OBE adds: LGBT laws and practices vary dramatically across the world. For an international company like BT, this tool is an important source of information for our employees and a significant enhancement to our policy portfolio. Local employees, those who travel on business, or indeed just as tourists, will be provided with vital information.
The launch of http://ilga.org
BT hosted a launch event on 24th February at its London headquarters, timed to coincide with LGBT History Month in the UK. Among invited guests were representatives from other multinational companies whom Caroline Waters urged to follow BTs example and look to promoting and supporting their LGBT people overseas.
Today there are eighty countries in the world that still criminalise same-sex relationships, including some countries applying penalties such as imprisonment and even the death sentence. Several speakers at the event understood this reality from firsthand experience; what it is like to be discriminated against, simply because of who you are or who you want to share your life with. Lin McDevitt-Pugh, a Dutch/Australian talked about not being able to live with her American wife in the US because of immigration laws, the Rev Rowland Jide Macaulay, pastor and founder of the House Of Rainbow, talked about state sponsored homophobia in several African countries and Sass Rogando Sasot about oppression and violence towards transsexuals in the Philippines.
Jon Robson, the lead BT developer on the project summed it up in a message he sent to the conference from his own extended holiday in Asia. He movingly described the journey he had taken working on the project as a young straight man, previously pretty much unaware of the draconian laws that affected and ruined real lives. He talked about the people he had met and befriended through his work and his incredulity about how cruel a place the world could be. He questioned: But its just about being in love isnt it?
BT and ILGA are working to ensure an easy and safe passage through the world for LGBT travellers. You can see the website for yourself at http://ilga.org/ And please spread the word.