Santander’s Embrace LGBT+ network in the global headquarters in Madrid convened representatives from the four of the biggest companies in Spain on Thursday 25 June for a discussion about LGBT+ diversity during the covid-19 pandemic.

Spain is considered one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, legalising gay marriage in 2005 and is seen as a model for gay rights in Europe. But a 2019 study by ADIM of companies in Spain and Portugal found that 72% of employees are not open about their sexuality at work or with colleagues. One of the key points that all panellists at the All. Together. Pride event agreed on was that activities like this which promote continued discussion and acceptance by companies in Spain is an important step in turning those numbers around.

Employees working from home
Employees working from home

Roberto di Bernardini, the global Head of HR for Santander Group, opened the event, showing a video that reminded us that the coronavirus pandemic has sometimes forced us to share more about our personal lives with our colleagues than we normally would have, and that no one should have fears of showing who they are.

All. Together. Pride. Event
All. Together. Pride. Event

Lluis Casanova, Managing Director of Santander Global Tech conducted an interview with Eva Diaz, CEO of the startup Appogeo Digital, looking at what she sees as the most critical steps for businesses to take in improving diversity and inclusion, and how she has seen it done well.

Eva said: “To not feel embarrassed to show our families on a video call for instance is an indicator of one of the most important steps, normalising as much as possible that it’s ok to be unashamedly who we are.”

“The most important thing that senior management can do in a company is believe. Belief in diversity of all kinds makes a tangible difference between saying the words and truly taking action”. 

When Lluis asked what was needed most, Eva said: “Spanish companies are working hard at diversity and Spain is a great country to live and work as an LGBT+ person, especially in bigger organisations. The most important thing we can do is to take steps to accept and understand each other. To listen to each other.”

Following the interview, Niurka Gibaja, a leader at the Federacion Estatal LGBT+ (FELGTB) in Spain moderated a panel which featured Maria Angela Velazquez Dominguez (Gerente de Transformacion Cultural y Diversidad en Telefonica España), Nacho Mora Ariza (Director de Diversidad e Inclusion, Inditex), Jose Antonio Gallego Vasquez (Diversity Leader, BBVA) and Chema Palomo (Global Talent Group Vice President at Santander). 

FELGTB is Spain’s main LGBT organisation and responsible for the coordination of Pride in Madrid, this year held virtually as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and involving companies in a #6DaysChallenge of activities involving employees and their own networks.

This was the first time these four companies – four of the largest in Spain – were brought together to discuss LGBT+ diversity. Chema noted that we all have a responsibility here, we can be competitors in business for sure, but in this we are not competitors, we have to work together. 

Maria Angeles said that during the pandemic Telefonica has found that allowing people to be flexible in how they interacted with video conferences has been a successful way of reducing some of the fears people have. “We’ve been open to the different ways people want to work during these times, with camera on, without, being understanding when you see family members or pets.” She pointed out too that for inclusion to be successful in companies we cannot permit intolerance. At that point, things will start to change. 

Nacho Mora said Inditex has taken a similar approach to video conferencing during the pandemic, but also mentioned an initiative called “Meet your Colleagues”, developed during the confinement, which was a series of virtual meetings among people of different departments to help normalize remote working, while encouraging people to feel comfortable communicating from home as a safe environment. “As a very diverse company already, operating in so many countries and cultures, and being in the Fashion business, we embrace diversity and inclusion in a very natural way. We are always looking for the most talented professionals and we are proud that many of the people who make up our teams in all areas of the business are part of the LGBTI community. Promoting the inclusion of the LGBTI people is very positive for our business, and it contributes to create more diverse and welcoming workplaces where everyone can thrive and succeed."

Jose Antonio said the employee networks at BBVA have been critical to their success in building an inclusive working environment. “Our employees have the power and support to solve the barriers they find their communities to face, and understanding those pain points is a big step in taking positive actions. For instance training for employees to not make assumptions and be more inclusive with everyone.” 

Chema finished the panel saying that visibility of all types of diversity is extremely important and especially visibility with and from senior leaders. “Through the pandemic we’ve shown we are more than employees, we are people, we have private lives. It can be surprising but we should be proud, we should be open, we should be celebrating our families and our diversity.

Elisabetta Galli, Head of Learning and Development for Santander Group closed the event by thanking the participants and attendees.

This is one in a series of activities Santander and its employees are undertaking during June and July for Pride in Spain and many other markets around the world. Moreover, Santander is proud to have signed an agreement with FELGTB to offer mentoring to the trans community. 

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