Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For years now there has been a general consensus regarding Filipinos’ attitudes towards the LGBTQ+: tolerant, but not really accepting. While much has been written about how the Philippines can move forward in bridging that gap between tolerance and acceptance — the biggest step being the passing of an anti-discrimination or SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression) Equality bill — a recent survey suggests that in the corporate setting, we might not even be at the level of tolerance yet.
The first ever Philippine Corporate SOGIE Diversity and Inclusiveness (CSDI) Index — a study conducted by the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce and research firm Cogencia, and supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Philippines — surveyed 100 companies on their anti-discrimination and equal opportunity employment policies. Out of the 100, they found zero Philippine-based companies implementing policies meant to protect their employees from SOGIE-based discrimination.
The study includes results of Patricia Angela Luzano Enriquez’s research paper, in which she found that 25 percent of respondents have experienced harassment from their employers or superior officers, 33 percent have experienced harassment from co-workers, and 60 percent have been the subject of slurs and jokes in the workplace. The overall data makes clear the dominant attitude towards LGBTQs in the Philippines’ professional world.
“It's not correct to say that companies are [tolerant]. We're far from that,” says Cogencia CEO Paulo Edrosolano. “I think we should completely erase that mindset that the Philippines accepts LGBTQIA+. The data says otherwise.”
While the CSDI Index did find 17 percent of companies with some form of SOGIE-inclusive, non-discrimination policy, they all had one thing in common: they were all from the BPO sector, which, more often than not, are foreign-headquartered. And even within the 17 percent, the policies were far from perfect.
Only 11 out of the 17 companies explicitly use the terms “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” in their anti-discrimination policies, while only three companies have policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and only three have on the basis of gender identity and expression.
Edrosolano emphasized the importance of pinpointing the exact terminology in company policies because, as Enriquez concludes in her study: “Discrimination in employment … happens as a result of how one performs their gender identity and expression.”
Moreover, only 10 out of the 17 companies have a structure for tracking SOGIE inclusiveness, and only six have actually conducted educational discussions or SOGIE trainings.
The worst part isn’t even that none of the Philippine-based companies surveyed had SOGIE-inclusive policies, but that more than half of them had no plans of creating any SOGIE-based anti-discrimination policies.
According to Edrosolano, during consultations with experts and key LGBTQ+ organizations, they discovered that many companies believe that protecting LGBTQ+ employees from discrimination is not an urgent matter, as the common assumption is that LGBTQ+ make up a small percentage of the workforce.
Another factor, said Angel Romero of the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, is that employers believe that inclusiveness initiatives — for example, adding an all-gender bathroom and providing insurance benefits for same-sex partners — is expensive, despite there being cheaper alternatives.
In the face of such dismal results, hope is not lost. Last Nov. 7, the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce unveiled their new campaign for the coming year — #Zeroto100PH, which aims to get 100 Philippine companies to pledge commitment towards LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion by conducting SOGIE trainings in the workplace and revising company policies to protect their LGBTQ+ employees.
Chair and founder Brian Tenorio says that the approach must be one that is “hand in hand in hand” where we see “an employee organization talking and chatting up their employers who are also chatting up LGBT organizations who will help the employees and the employers to figure out what to do next.”
For employees, Evan Tan of the Chamber of Commerce offers a few tangible steps they could take to participate in setting the wheels in motion:
“[Employees can] challenge or maybe ask their employers [about] how open their companies are towards including LGBT inclusive policies in the workplace as well,” he says. As Tenorio mentioned, Tan suggests that LGBTQ+ employees can form support groups where they can discuss their concerns and take them to their higher-ups.
Tan also says that companies that do want to make a change towards inclusiveness and diversity can begin by assessing and documenting instances of SOGIE-based discrimination in the company, seeking out SOGIE training (which the Chamber of Commerce offers), and making sure that company anti-discrimination policies include clauses that address sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Tan adds that companies with C-level executives and high-ranked officials who are out and proud can also inspire their own as well as other employees to stand up for their rights.
Why not just wait for the SOGIE Equality Bill?
The passing of the SOGIE Equality Bill is even more pertinent, with the bill seeking to prohibit employers from imposing SOGIE in their criteria for hiring, promotion, transfer, designation, dismissal, selection for training, privileges, and more. With such a bill in place, companies will be legally obligated to shift to a more inclusive culture.
But according to Tenorio, companies that want to shift towards a more progressive and inclusive culture shouldn’t need a bill to tell them what to do. And as the bill’s review is continually delayed in the Senate, perhaps corporations that want to do right by their employees can take a cue from the 18 cities around the country that have decided to implement their own anti-discrimination ordinances.
“A company does not need a law or a bill to tell them what to do if they really wanna do things well,” says Tenorio. “I think bills and laws are there to protect people who are refused protection by their companies and employers. But if you're a company and you want to do the right thing and you want to be profitable, you don't need a bill to tell you what to do because you're gonna do it anyway.”