This article is shared to reflect and follow up on Maersk DE&I week and International Women’s Day, and to bring attention to the experiences of queer women. A lot of times, DEI efforts are done in a single dimension, even though most of us are part of multiple social groups.

Queer women, in particular, are often overlooked even though they face a lot of barriers to inclusion. LGBT+ employees are more likely to experience workplace conflict and harassment than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts. Queer women are some of the most likely to face different types of sexual harassment in the workplace or fear that their sexual identity might affect their careers. BCG’s recent research shows that 81% of LGBT+ respondents have been exposed to or witnessed discriminatory situations at work; both LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ individuals report a negative impact on well-being.

Not all environments are friendly

"I grew up in a country that was intolerant towards the LGBTQI+ community. Just like many of my colleagues with the same background, it has always been difficult to come out to my colleagues due to fear of not being able to fit to heteronormative boundaries for success until I have moved to Denmark. Most lesbian/bisexual woman keep their sexual identity as a secret, fearing the truth will hurt their careers considering we are still fighting against gender-based discrimination on our generation. It is essential to ensure our colleagues feels safe all around the world, we continue to educate ourselves to be more inclusive and we have more allies globally."
- Turkish Employee (she/her/hers)

There is an assumption that queer women are less impacted by anti-LGBT laws, as many countries only criminalize same-sex relations between men. However, at least 38 countries criminalize same-sex conduct regardless of sex or expressly criminalize sexual conduct between women. At least 10 countries have, since 1986, explicitly enacted laws that criminalize sex between women as well as men, sometimes perversely framing this as a gesture toward equality.

  • Criminalize same-sex relations between both men and women, including through language like “gross indecency,” which appears to be gender neutral
  • Criminalize same-sex relations between men
  • Use vague language such as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” that in some contexts is understood as anal sex or other sex between men, but that could also be used against women

According to a report by the Human Rights Watch, queer women and non-binary people are the least visible in LGBTQ+ research and advisory. The report also made a jarring founding that “Policies and research focused on “women’s rights” rarely explicitly name LBQ+ women as rights-holders or analyze how their unique experiences of violence warrant more specific laws, policies, and protocols to protect them. Specifically, women’s rights research and policies related to forced marriage and property rights implicitly assume heterosexuality and a binary construction of gender, and rarely address abuses experienced by queer women.”

Representation matters

As a company, having representation and showing that our company is an ally to all employees matters, no matter what spectrum of minority. Check out the following quotes from other queer women employees of Maersk:

"Our company made quite an improvement - such as creating a visible community lead by Asian! I initially thought it was not necessary to share my sexuality in the workplace as that was not required for straight people. However, now I also believe in the power of representation as much as I do thanks to others who have been vocal about it. The more we have those voices, the safer LGBTQ+ colleagues will feel. How great would it be if I surely know my sexual identity will not jeopardize my career? Discrimination towards homosexuality varies per country so understand the progress will be different per place. What can you do to support us? Be an ally! You can be one simply by using more inclusive words (i.e., partner instead of girlfriend or boyfriend) and/or calling out when people make jokes about LGBTQ+!"
- South Korean Employee (she/her/hers)

"South Africa, a traditionally conservative country, has one of  the most progressive LGBTQI+ laws in the world. This includes full constitutional protection of all citizens and disallows discrimination on race, gender, religion, political opinion, or sexual orientation. Nelson Mandela made a point of mentioning this during his 1994 inaugural speech – pretty cool! I therefore count myself extremely blessed to have grown up in this country. Not only that, I work for a global company that recognizes the importance of inclusion for all, and one which walks the talk. I am however aware that not all my African brothers and sisters are as fortunate as I am and in many countries, they do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as I do. My hope is that by being visible, and telling my story, I instill a certain sense of hope and that biases are challenged. My commitment is always to create a safe space where colleagues and friends alike can feel supported in their journey to being their authentic self, and in so doing, shine!"
- South African Employee (she/her/hers)

"I am one of those “lucky” cases where I could be myself since very little. I came out pretty early hence I never had to pretend or hide who I am to my family, friends and now colleagues. I have always been very outspoken about being part of the LGBTQI+ community and I am very grateful for that. This has allowed me to build personal tools to support others who have not have the same luck. Currently I am a mentor at Young@Workplace Pride which is a special program of Workplace Pride intended to target and support exactly this age demographic as they enter the workplace. I believe a sense of belonging is a prerequisite for anyone to perform their best at work! I am very proud to be able to support any generation to feel safe, respected, and equal in their society"
- Spanish Employee (she/her/hers)

"Being part of a gender minority, and additionally part of a minority within sexual identities, can be a heavy load to bear. Working together to create a safe and inclusive space for all colleagues can help to lighten that load and feel one belongs. This in turn helps each person to bring their full self to the table, delivering even better results for our customers, and for us."
- Danish Employee (she/her/hers)

All these reflections clearly show that the employee resource networks fits precisely within one of our company’s four differentiators: ”We are people driven” – explaining why we need, and have, a Pride@Maersk Network, Power Women Network and that we welcome more allies globally!

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