• 01 Dec 2014 by Sophie Vandebroek

    "No matter your colleagues sexual orientation or gender identity, it is essential to create an
    inclusive environment where everyone can bring not only their intellect but also their passion to
    work.” ~ Dr. Sophie Vandebroek


    Reflections as Corporate Champion for Xerox's LGBT Employees

    By Sophie Vandebroek, Xerox Chief Technology Officer and President of the Xerox Innovation Group
     

    As my second 3-year term as Xerox's corporate champion for our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
    Transgender (LGBT) employees comes to an end, let me share some reflections.
    Significant progress has been made: Xerox and the communities where many of us live have become
    more inclusive. There are more openly gay role models. There is Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and first
    openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. There is Elio Di Rupo, the outgoing Prime Minister of
    Belgium, my home country, who is the second openly gay head of government in modern times. There
    are also more out athletes and TV characters.


    A lot remains to be done. Statistics show that half of United States or European LGBT employees fear
    coming out at work. In 78 countries LGBT individuals can be put in jail or worse, in 5 countries they can
    receive the death penalty. Many states in the USA still don’t allow same-sex marriage or have no legal
    protection against discrimination of LGBT employees in the workplace.
    Throughout my almost 25 years at Xerox I have enjoyed the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of
    individuals: people from many cultures and races, from pre-Baby Boomers to Gen Y, individuals with
    disabilities, men and women of various religious beliefs as well as non-believers, and people coming from
    different social backgrounds. Prior to becoming Xerox’s corporate LGBT Champion however, I knew little
    about their community. I had no openly gay friends or family. I had never met a bisexual person or
    someone brave enough to go through a gender transition. Although Xerox truly embraces diversity and
    has done so for over 40 years, our LGBT employees had been invisible to me.
    Over the last 6 years, I have had the privilege of learning first hand from LGBT colleagues about their
    personal and often painful journeys to becoming authentic. There have been many touching moments.
    Two employees going through a gender transition could not afford to pay for surgery. Others admitted to
    lying about their personal lives, as they did not feel comfortable being out at Xerox. I met couples who
    had lived together for decades but were not allowed to marry, something I had taken for granted and
    done twice. I recall being on the verge of tears hearing stories of people who were rejected by friends, coworkers
    and even family due to religious beliefs. None of this is fair and all I could think of was: How can I
    help?


    Together with GALAXe, our Employee Resource caucus group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
    employees, I wanted to make sure all employees could safely choose to become visible and bring their
    whole self to work. We organized “LGBT 101” educational sessions across the globe. We reached out to
    my corporate officer peers to give them an opportunity to understand the specific challenges faced by
    LBGT employees. Every single Vice President we approached immediately opened the door and became
    an amazing executive ally. So when the day came to sign the Amicus briefs in support of withdrawing the
    Defense of Marriage Act in the USA, or to repeal Proposition 8 in California, or to speak up for Equal
    Marriage rights in New York State, we did not sit on the sidelines. As a company, we stood behind our
    core diversity values and joined the efforts in various states to put in place equal rights for all.
    Within Xerox there was also positive change. After an initial pilot in Canada, voluntary self-ID is now
    embedded in the employee surveys globally. All of us can now securely share our gender identity and
    sexual orientation. This allows us to make Xerox an even more inclusive workplace. Almost 4%, or one in
    25, of last years' survey respondents self-identified as LGB or Transgender. They provided specific
    suggestions on what we could do better to allow them to realize their full potential. We have also been
    able to establish the long-overlooked transgender benefits for all Xerox employees. We educated
    managers around the globe on how to respectfully help an individual and coach their team as he or she
    goes through a gender transition.

     

    Most importantly, all Xerox organizations now rate 100% on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate
    Equality Index. This is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to
    LGBT employees. While the Xerox technology business has maintained a 100% score for over a decade,
    this is a significant achievement for our Services business.
    I am writing this blog on the plane returning from the GALAXe caucus group conference in San Francisco.
    It coincided with the annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit . Over three thousand (3000!) LGBT
    professionals and allies participated in this global event. Xerox and more than 80 customers and
    competitor companies were Summit sponsors. Our own Mike Feldman, President of Xerox Large
    Enterprise Organization, is on the Out & Equal board of directors. A dozen other Xerox senior leaders
    joined and were able to learn and experience the business power and broad diversity within the LBGT
    community.


    Being the Champion for the Xerox LGBT employees has been a wonderful experience. I gained
    enormous admiration for our out LGBT employees. They show amazing courage to be themselves. I
    admire their passion to speak up for what is right. Countless employees at Xerox have benefited from the
    activism of those who dared to be themselves at work. My dream is that in the very near future, all
    employees will find it natural to be themselves at Xerox and pursue their full potential.
    I feel proud to have played a role in the historical passing of same-sex marriage legislation in New York
    State. I cherish the memory of standing on the steps of City Hall, with Xerox colleagues and the Mayor of
    Rochester, representing the only large Rochester employer with the courage to publicly stand behind our
    beliefs. It was exhilarating when shortly after, same-sex marriage became legal in New York State.
    Dozens of Xerox employees, now my friends, have got married recently. Seeing their touching wedding
    photos triggered tears of joy.


    My association with GALAXe has also enriched my family. LGBT issues have become a frequent topic of
    conversation at the dinner table with Jesús, my husband, and our blended family of six young adults and
    whoever among their friends might be visiting. We have learned to discuss difficult topics and suspend
    judgment. We are more understanding, open minded and respectful for it. I have only gratitude to the
    LGBT community for this awesome gift.


    Tim Cook characterized writing his coming-out essay last month as laying a brick for justice. Now we all
    need to be bold. Please embrace your colleagues, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
    Create an environment on your team where everyone can bring both, their intellect and their passion to
    work. Doing so is essential to form a strong human fabric. It is essential to be creative and
    entrepreneurial. It is essential to innovate and make sure that Xerox's business is successful for many
    decades to come.


    You can find more info on how to join GALAXe here. GALAXe membership has tripled over the last 6
    years. Please be yourself and be an Ally for everyone who is different.