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A Great Big Rainbow Umbrella

Roughly 2-4 percent of the population is part of the LGBT minority, meaning they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Many hide their sexual orientation at work for fear of discrimination, and that requires a tremendous amount of energy. By getting involved in the LGBT Ally program, both heterosexual and LGBT staff members send a signal that they are open to the topic.

Whether at the airport, in a conference room in London, or at her regular workplace in Zurich – wherever Tracy Morland opens her laptop, she attracts subtle, curious glances. That's because of a multi-colored card attached to the top of her laptop. The card shows the inside of an open umbrella, the sections displaying every color of the rainbow. A white field proclaims, "Proud to be an LGBT Ally." And a slightly smaller text reads, "LGBT Open Network – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender."

Numbers That Tell Stories

It's clear what LGBT means, but what is an LGBT Ally? Morland explains: "LGBT Ally refers to a Credit Suisse program in which participants show solidarity with issues of concern to their LGBT coworkers. An Ally is a friend, supporter, and advocate of the LGBT community. With the card on my laptop, I communicate that I don't have a problem with the sexual orientation of those around me." At first glance, it seems like a paradox for Morland to be using her computer to openly address an issue that is not an issue for her and for her to be happy when people talk to her about it. The results of various US studies show that open discussion is necessary for the following reasons:

  • A full 63 percent of university graduates born between 1980 and 2000 who are part of the LGBT community admit that they no longer acknowledge their LGBT identity upon making the transition from college to the working world.
  • One-third of all LGBT individuals fear being treated differently by their coworkers if they openly admit their identity in the workplace.
  • Individual productivity is reduced by 30 percent when a certain perception of one's sexual orientation must be maintained in the workplace.

Even if these figures are not based on Swiss surveys, it can be assumed that the situation in this country is comparable. Bernd Krajnik, who is himself gay and the initiator of the LGBT Ally program at Credit Suisse in Switzerland, feels that people in the US have far fewer inhibitions about coming out of the closet than people in Switzerland do. "It has nothing to do with greater tolerance for the subject. Instead, it shows there is a difference in mentality between the two countries," he says. In Switzerland, homosexual acts have been legal since 1942, and same-sex partners have been able to register since 2007. However, sexual orientation is viewed as more of a private issue than it is in English-speaking countries. According to Switzerland's gay rights organization, the Pink Cross, gay and lesbian couples are sometimes afraid to have their partnerships registered because they would have to inform their employers of the change in civil status, thereby outing themselves.

What Does an Ally Do?

One goal of the LGBT Ally program is to make fears and concerns like these go away. Originally, the program was intended as a way for heterosexual employees to show solidarity with their LGBT coworkers. Every employee should feel comfortable in his or her workplace environment, because those who feel good are more creative and perform better. From the very beginning, however, members of the LGBT community themselves also signed up for the program. Krajnik notes: "Why should it not be possible for me, as a gay person, to be an ally to my lesbian, bisexual, or transgender coworkers?" Allies are open to the subject of LGBT rights, showing an interest in them and a willingness to talk about them when another person wants to. They also intervene whenever they witness discrimination. However, they are not activists and do not have to unconditionally approve of everything that has to do with LGBT issues. That acknowledgment of LGBT rights is made visible by the card that Morland has attached to her laptop instead of, for example, simply placing it on her desk. That way, she always has it with her. Other options include a special mouse pad or a personal email signature referring to one's involvement.

Drawing Strength from Kindness and Tolerance

While the program has existed at Credit Suisse in the US and the UK for several years, it was only rolled out in Singapore and the bank's home market this year. Morland was one of the first Swiss Allies. "Before I came to Switzerland, I worked for Credit Suisse in Singapore, where I was also an LGBT Ally. My involvement here is simply a logical step," she explains. She first became aware of the issue through an experience she had while studying in New Zealand. "At the time, my boyfriend – now my husband – and I had a mutual friend. He was a well-read, older gentleman with whom we spent many hours discussing books together. One day, we received news that he had committed suicide. Somebody else had exposed him as being gay. Within our close-knit, small-town community, he was unable to deal with the situation," explains Morland. For most people, coming out of the closet is a big step. "It's not like a person's coming-out solves all their problems in one go," says Krajnik. Instead, as a member of a minority, you have to get used to explaining who you are over and over again, he adds. It is extremely helpful to have an environment that shows kindness, much like the one the LGBT Ally program provides. Krajnik is pleased with the first few months of the program: "We were able to bring onboard two important ambassadors at the management level: Patricia Horgan and Serge Fehr, who are taking the lead and setting an example." For 2016, he hopes to see more people from those ranks will become involved and that the number of participants will then grow. Then, someday, the picture in rainbow colors affixed to someone's laptop will no longer make people stop and stare curiously because diversity will have become perfectly normal.