Discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community costs Romania €3.5 billion, according to a report by Open for Business, a coalition of leading global companies dedicated to showing the economic benefits of LGBTQ+ inclusion. Companies in emerging markets, such as the ones in Central Eastern Europe, are slowly becoming more vocal about supporting LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion.
Through our webinar, What an increasingly diverse world means for companies in emerging markets, we discussed how companies are currently increasing their support for LGBTQ+ inclusion and the benefits of ED&I on business. We spoke to – among others – Teodora Rosetti-Ion-Rotaru, Executive Director at ACCEPT Romania, George Perlov, Executive Director at Open for Business, Ivan Janković, People and Culture Delivery Manager at IKEA SEE (South-East Europe), Violeta Nenita, Country Manager at IKEA Romania, Claire Harvey, Global Inclusion Lead at Vodafone Group, Javier Leonor-Vicente, Global Inclusion and Diversity Senior Manager, Pride at Accenture and Leonard Rizoiu, Managing Partner at Leo HR. Find the highlights of our conversation below.
Where is Romania right now in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusion and rights, especially in business?
Lestat Monroe: There is one figure that I would like to share that I have recently learnt about from a report by Open for Business: discrimination toward the LGBTQ+ community in Romania costs us €3.5 billion. If the government doesn’t take action, I believe that companies have the duty to stand up, educate people, raise their voices and raise awareness.
Ivan Janković: I would say that legal progress in achieving equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals is remarkably slow and that is the case for Romania and predominately in the whole Central Eastern European region. There is a strong hostile narrative toward this community in Romania but I think the culture is changing, the atmosphere is changing. I think that businesses have the obligation towards the society’s they operate in to make an effort to change this narrative.
Claire Harvey: Society is changing rapidly in Romania as with most other places in the world. I would say that our Vodafone Romania colleagues have always been supportive of LGBTQ+ rights but in a passive manner. They are now beginning that journey of transitioning to a position where they are actively challenging inequality and discrimination and want to be seen doing so.
Leonard Rizoiu: I think that businesses in emerging markets such as the one in Romania are very reluctant right now. Reluctance is a key concept here. The majority of businesses are not embracing diversity and inclusion, instead, they are expecting signs from headquarters or the market to start or design procedures and models that will advance equality, diversity and inclusion. Right now I sense that the majority of companies are reluctant but some are more proactive when it comes to ED&I even if they are taking small steps. For sure, I believe that the future will continue to be brighter.
Javier Leonor-Vicente: I think we are seeing companies in emerging markets becoming more vocal about LGBTQ+ rights. I think that governments are also more vocal about certain things happening in Central Eastern Europe and closer to where I am based, in Amsterdam. I cannot talk about how Accenture is impacting consumers specifically since our services don’t appeal to consumers, but to other companies.
But I would say that more and more consumer companies are aligning themselves with this movement. On Sunday during the football match at the stadium in Budapest, there were lots of companies with ads that had some rainbow messages. Some were subtle, others were more ‘in your face’. I think this shows that companies sometimes cannot explicitly support the LGBTQ+ movement they still want to say: “We are here with you”. So I think companies are taking a stance and are breaking their silence.
Teodora Rosetti-Ion-Rotaru: I think this can be a very loaded question that can be viewed very differently when you are part of civil society rather than the business world. Businesses in Romania are often ahead of policymakers when it comes to equality and inclusion which is great news for the LGBTQ+ community. At the same time, it is important to note that businesses are trying to create equality and inclusion in a hostile environment, where governmental measures make it more difficult to achieve this. Despite the challenges they face, businesses are important allies that can build support around LGBTQ+ communities. They have already been doing this for the past five to six years – with baby steps – and for me, it is great to interact with people who have LGBTQ+ equality in mind when doing business.
George Perlov: My sense is that LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion are at an early stage in countries with emerging markets. I think multi-nationals such as Accenture, are probably at the forefront of these discussions in Romania. At the same time, I believe there is definitely room for a lot more to happen, not only at the multinational level but also at an SME level. It would be great to see more SME companies speak out about these issues within their local communities.