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Gary E. Frank headshot

What It Takes to Build Workplaces That Are More Inclusive for LGBTQ People

According to a recent survey by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 46 percent of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted, and 31 percent are unhappy at their workplace because they don’t feel safe or well represented. 
By Gary E. Frank
mars pride

How can people be at their best in their careers if they work in an environment in which they don’t feel safe fully revealing who they are? 

That is a question faced by millions of LGBTQ workers and their employers every day. According to a recent survey by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 46 percent of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted, 53 percent are hearing jokes about LGBTQ people at work, and 31 percent are unhappy at their workplace because they don’t feel safe or well represented. 

Rebecca Snow, global vice president for people and organization at Mars, understands those feelings based upon her own life’s journey as someone who identifies as lesbian. 

“Through my personal experience, I have learned how much productivity and happiness is eroded when people cannot be themselves — both in their personal life and at work,” Snow told TriplePundit. “I have a deep belief that businesses will be more successful — and employees will be more creative and engaged — when people can authentically be themselves.”

That starts with creating psychological safety and building teams on trust as a foundational principle, Snow continued. Leaders set the tone by being open about their personal strengths, weaknesses, successes and mistakes; asking for help when they need it; getting to know their employees as human beings, both personally and professionally; and recognizing they are “not always the smartest person in the room,” she said. 

While Mars recognizes the climate can be tense for brands taking a stand on public issues, it has remained steadfast in its shows of support for the LGBTQ community and associates who identify as LGBTQ.

The building blocks of a diverse and inclusive workplace

Creating an inclusive workplace starts with a diverse workforce that represents society and represents the consumers or the clients being served, Snow said. 

“I think that workforce, ideally, is represented by its leadership so that people can see themselves in the people that lead the organization,” she told us. “Then you also need to have the right support mechanisms in place.”

Those support mechanisms include people knowing that they have someone to go to for help, such as a line manager or human resources staff, and establishing the infrastructure, policies and processes that support people in their workplace as they wrestle “with all of the various challenges that people have these days,” Snow said.

Above all, she insists it’s important to have a solid foundation. For more than a decade, Mars says it has proudly built and enhanced that foundation, both internally and externally, so LGBTQ associates can be themselves at work. Internally, this has included establishing an internal community called PRIDE, which works with the company’s internal LGBTQ community and allies. It also has an “Inclusive Leadership” program that educates managers on workplace issues involving inclusivity for all forms of diversity.

Mars also ensures full parity across its entire suite of benefits, offering the same benefits to domestic partners and spouses, including benefits related to adoption. The company offers health plans to all employees that cover services for transgender people, including gender transition-related treatments. Additionally, it created a transgender toolkit for managers and associates to use when going through a gender confirmation in the workplace.
Mars also hosts 12 global LGBTQ associate resource groups across its confectionary, food and pet care businesses. The resource groups empower thousands of Mars associates to work together to advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ community and to support the Mars business and each other with resources and education.

“With these programs in place, for the second year in a row, we were proudly recognized in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index, receiving the highest possible score of 100 percent in the benchmark survey reporting corporate policies and practices related to the LGBTQ workplace equality,” Snow said.

Fostering a culture of inclusion

From a cultural perspective, Mars has been building an inclusive workplace through the I Can Be Me campaign, which started in 2018 in the United Arab Emirates and is now reflected in Mars offices across the globe. “It was started initially because of the diversity challenges in [the UAE] region,” Snow said. “We wanted firstly to celebrate the diverse nationalities of our workforce in that region, but we also  wanted to focus specifically on getting more women into the workforce, particularly into some of our factories, for example.”

I Can Be Me was sponsored by Mars leadership in the UAE and centers on leaders bringing their whole selves into the workplace and encouraging other people to talk about their own identities and be curious about others’. 

“Very rapidly the program grew into a much broader inclusion platform” that went far beyond the gender opportunity in the Middle East, “and we then rolled it out around the world,” Snow said. “It has become a consistent platform which starts with the individual, but can also be channeled to the particular  challenges a local market might face in their diversity, equity and inclusion agenda and what might be some of the things that they go after.”

For example, when Mars’ team in the United Kingdom started their I Can Be Me program, they asked local associates about the biggest issues they wanted to address. Five working groups were established, including groups on LGBTQ, flexible working, mental health, disabilities in the workplace and age diversity. 
In addition to the appropriate programs and policies, Snow said it is important for leaders to raise awareness of unconscious bias. 

“To achieve this, we arm and support our leaders and managers on the front line to build skills and provide toolkits to help foster a more inclusive dialogue with their teams,” she explained. “The company also acts externally around LGBTQ related issues with the intent of ensuring that it can continue to provide a safe, welcoming and inclusive workplace for its employees.”

Mars has openly opposed discriminatory legislation that has threatened the rights of its associates and was among the 300 companies to file an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging an overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013.

Recently, Mars joined more than 200 companies signing the Human Rights Council’s Freedom for All Americans’ Business Statement Opposing Anti-LGBTQ State Legislation and stating clear opposition to harmful legislation aimed at restricting the access of LGBTQ people in society. 

The bottom line: Inclusion is key to better business

All of these efforts are reflective of Mars’ Five Principles — quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom — which aim to be the building blocks for how all Mars associates and businesses conduct themselves, Snow said. The company says it is committed to ensuring that each of its associates can be themselves at work, and associates have been open to the company’s efforts to promote business and each other with resources and education.

“Our overarching purpose is the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today, and one of our expressions of the world we want tomorrow is one where society is inclusive,” Snow concluded. “That's what we strive to live out as an employer. So, when you join our company, that’s effectively what you sign up for — you sign up to progressing that purpose. Our part of the bargain, if you like, is to make sure you are aware and up-skilled to be able to help progress that agenda.” Learn more about inclusion and diversity at Mars here.

This article series is sponsored by Mars and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image courtesy of Mars

Gary E. Frank headshot

Gary E. Frank is a writer with more than 30 years of experience encompassing journalism, marketing, media relations, speech writing, university communications and corporate communications. 

Read more stories by Gary E. Frank