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I felt like a unicorn

Andreas Claus Kistner is Chapter Head Architecture & Emerging Technologies in Roche Pharma Informatics in Kaiseraugst. He is a founding member of the OPEN group in Basel for LGBTQ+ employees and brings up several important issues that have recently affected the community.

Allies play the role of change drivers within the evolution of a norm. On the one hand they support the acceptance of diversity and of different values, and on the other, they make a bias obvious. If a LGBTQ+ colleague gets offended by a statement, it is expected that the person will defend herself/himself. But there is a higher impact if a non-LGBTQ+ related colleague defends this person and highlights any kind of wrong behaviour. Allies can therefore act as role models.

We have to be aware that tolerance and acceptance are in a relatively good state in Switzerland. Nevertheless, we have seen a dramatic increase in hate crimes against LGBTQ+ persons in recent years. Therefore, every ally within Roche but also outside is needed to avoid or end discrimination and promote equality.

Pandemic problems

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on everybody. The lockdown showed in some cases the issues that LGBTQ+ people still face in our society. In some cases it showed ongoing discrimination in Switzerland. Let me give you two examples. A partner of a friend, who has not yet formally announced that they are a couple, was hospitalised recently. However, the friend has not been able to visit or to get any information about his partner. If they had been in a registered partnership, it would have been possible for them to connect despite the hospitalisation. In this case living together without registering their partnership has become a hurdle. There are many LGBTQ+ people in Switzerland who already have a registered partnership but this means that as an individual they have to out themselves at the workplace (or at least with the HR department). So a person’s wish for privacy could end up blocking access to his partner.

The second issue that came to light was with elderly LGBTQ+ people living in a care home. It is not understood till this day that in the older generation not many had outed themselves. Those who did remain disconnected from their biological family. Quite often they have created their own families from among friends. During the lockdown they experienced complete isolation and the loneliness was tremendous. Even with the relaxation of the rules, their “family” or those in their social circle were not able to meet.

Early days at Roche

When I joined Roche about 13 years ago, I felt like a unicorn. Some colleagues even told me that “I am the only one”. Actually, I did not face any issues as openly out at the workplace. I initiated OPEN about 10 years ago with some colleagues as I noticed that not everybody had the same environment in the company. Awareness of some issues have not been obvious in some departments like in HR or even with retirement regulations. Roche is like a small community within the broader society that needs to evolve and adapt to new norms. From my perspective, Roche as a company has made tremendous progress on topics like inclusion, anti-discrimination and equality.

Whilst in the beginning there was a focus on gender equality, we can see now that the next level of equality is in progress. Support to employee resource groups like Family & Career, RocheAbility for those differently abled, CrossCultural Network and OPEN is now given from the executives. Over the last 10 years I did see a lot of colleagues that left the closet and are now out at the workplace. That is a good sign, as the individuals feel safe and accepted.

In the meantime, OPEN Basel has become a global movement with chapters in Poland, Spain, UK, Brazil, Australia, South Africa and China.

3 June 2021