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Connect with pride: LGBT+ networks across borders

In 2020, we launched Japan Tobacco International's (JTI) LGBT+ employee resource group (ERG), Pride. But with 48,000 employees spread across the globe, I always knew that instilling a sense of ‘pride’ across the business was going to be a hugely important challenge.

From legal recognition of same-sex marriage to the death penalty for homosexuality, an unpredictable political, social, and cultural landscape means that the LGBT+ inclusion climate is ever-changing.

Just by looking at the Fifa World Cup headlines, it is clearer than ever how complex cross-cultural LGBT+ inclusion approaches can be.

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So how do companies keep up? By harnessing the power of employee-led change and empowering in-the-know change agents on the ground.

After Pride's first year, it became apparent that if we were to really be effective, we needed to increase our footprint and engage employees globally. This was the birth of our global chapter blueprint, serving as a template for all countries where JTI operates.

Since then, Pride has grown from an HQ initiative into a thriving global network of 10 chapters covering four continents. These chapters are developing local peer-to-peer support networks, running LGBT+ events, and delivering educational campaigns and workshops within their own markets.

Though we’re still at the start of this journey, the last few years have already brought with them some learnings that I hope may inspire fellow change agents in other organisations on a similar quest:

Develop potential leaders because they are your legacy

Identify LGBT+ change agents and impassioned allies around the globe to foster an international network of proactive, self-reliant leaders, who can set off a lasting ripple of change across your business.

Last year, our Women of Pride video series gave employees a platform to share their unique experiences as queer women. Through this initiative, two contributors decided to launch Pride UK.

It’s been inspiring to see the widespread support they’ve garnered from their colleagues since, and to witness them leading the charge for change in our Women of Pride meetings.

Be descriptive, not prescriptive

Providing chapters with ideas, guides, and editable assets ensures they feel supported and enables them to make a difference no matter the resources they have available locally.

But ERGs should always be ownable, and leaders should feel confident that they can run their group without supervision or interference. Listen, and give advice, but don’t overstep. Trust in your local chapters and they’ll trust in you.

There’s power in connection

Working together towards a common goal will only hasten your progress and strengthen your influence. Our Pride chapters’ Teams hub provides access to Pride-branded resources and offers a safe space to ask questions and collaborate. Regular check-in calls are also a great opportunity to bring chapters together to celebrate, learn and align.

Invite outside perspectives

I’ve always said: 'if you want to be a winner, partner with one'. Bringing in external LGBT+ inclusion partners can bring fresh and powerful insights, helping to push both yourself, and your whole ERG, to the next level.

Our ongoing partnership with We Create Space, a global queer-led not-for-profit consultancy, introduces chapter leads to a range of unique LGBT+ guest speakers and specialists, discussing everything from transgender workplace inclusion to creating accessible spaces for LGBT+ people with disabilities.

You can always be more inclusive

Creating a truly inclusive ERG is a never-ending process; you must continually reflect, learn and grow. A greater appreciation for intersectionality will make you increasingly aware of the unique barriers that others within your organisation face and will in turn make you better prepared to challenge them.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, especially across continents, but I’m proud we’ve taken the first of many steps on this critical mission. There’s strength in numbers. There’s power in unity. And there’s no limit to what we can achieve together when we all ‘connect with pride’.

Rene Staebe is global lead of the Pride employee resource group at Japan Tobacco International (JTI)