To celebrate Pride Month, we spoke with the two co-chairs of Biogen’s employee resource network for LGBTQ+ and ally employees, ReachOUT, Tracy Germann, Senior Manager of Accounting at Biogen, and Jason Almlof, Senior Manager of Government Pricing at Biogen, on how Biogen employees are encouraged to bring their entire self to work every day.
Personal Reflections from Jason
How did you come out at your workplace?
My first “workplace” was the U.S. Navy, at a time when being openly gay was not permissible. When I left the Navy for the corporate world, I made a personal commitment that going forward I would only be honest and authentic, both with myself and other people.
The decision to live out may be a single moment, but coming out happens person by person. I joined my prior companies and Biogen already living out. I talk about my life freely and mention my partner, same as others may talk about their spouse, or family. I also place visual LGBTQ signals around my workspace such as Pride icons, HRC stickers, and ReachOUT signs. The visual clues are intended to send the message that I am a friend to LGBTQ people and that around me is a safe space.
How has coming out influenced your leadership approach and style?
It is exhausting to be one person at work and a different person outside work. I vividly remember perpetually censoring myself around colleagues, fearful of saying anything that might indicate my homosexuality. The ability and freedom to bring my whole self to work is critical for being able to work without limits and barriers. My experiences have shaped how I engage with everyone. I feel an acute sensitivity for the silent messages between spoken words, and understand the importance of communicating without presumptions.
I know that many people are not in a position where they are invited to be their authentic self. My own experiences have helped me develop a powerful sense of empathy for anyone who feels limited because of who they are.
Do you have a specific program or an Employee Resource Network?
ReachOUT is Biogen’s employee resource network for LGBTQ+ and ally employees. We (Jason Almlof and Tracy Germann) are currently the co-chairs of ReachOUT. We have a team of 18 employees in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Switzerland, and the UK that volunteer their time to lead initiatives internally and externally throughout the year.
When / how did ReachOUT get started? How many people then? How many people today? Goals achieved?
ReachOUT was started by a handful of Massachusetts-based employees in 2011. Since then, ReachOUT’s roster has grown to over 400 employees in locations across the globe, including: Cambridge & Weston, MA; Research Triangle Park, NC; Washington, DC; Maidenhead, UK; Zug & Solothurn, Switzerland; and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
What’s next for ReachOUT?
ReachOUT is working to create meaningful experiences for our members. Having a large roster is only advantageous if the members see the value and benefit of being part of ReachOUT. Through storytelling, we are increasing our level of engagement to be more direct, focused and personable. It is our goal to show our network as a resource for all employees, and that starts with truly connecting with people.
Are same sex spouses encouraged to attend social events?
Yes! Same-sex partners, spouses, friends, family and even pets are always encouraged to attend ReachOUT events. For example, Biogen hosts a yearly BIG Champions of Inclusion ceremony which recognizes employees who have modeled how to embrace diversity and lead with inclusion. This past year, one of our own Leadership Team members received this huge recognition. Her wife accompanied her to the awards ceremony, at which they also shared the news that they were expecting their first child. It is a powerful story of belonging and feeling safe to bring your whole self/family into the workplace!
How do you identify LGBTQ diverse candidates and get them into your pipeline?
Biogen is committed to be a place where everyone feels comfortable bringing their authentic self to work. We practice community outreach, partnerships with pro-equality organizations such as GLAD, HRC, MA LGBTQ Bar Association, Boston and Durham Pride, Reaching Out MBA and through our own internal ReachOUT Network. We removed gender-persuasive language from our hiring practices. In fact, ReachOUT is one of our most powerful recruitment tools for LGBTQ candidates.
Can you describe your methodology for orienting these new hires into Biogen culture?
New employees are introduced to all of Biogen’s Employee Resource Networks (ERNs) in their on-boarding session. Starting in 2018, when a new employee connects with ReachOUT, we make a direct engagement and spend time with each new member. In these 1:1 meetings, new employees are given information about the history and current activities of ReachOUT by one of our Leadership Team members.
Practices & Policies
How do you assist colleagues and clients with acceptance re: transgender employees?
Biogen held transgender awareness trainings in October/November 2017, in Research Triangle Park, NC and Cambridge, MA. There was a contract employee who was transitioning from male to female and wanted to bring her whole self to work every day. A partnership quickly formed with Human Resources, ReachOUT, and PFLAG of Greater Boston to design and facilitate voluntary trainings for all interested employees to better understand transgender workplace guidelines. This training remains accessible to all employees.
In addition, all of Biogen’s benefits have been updated to include all transgender employees. These corporate policies extend to contractors, visitors and vendors.
How is ReachOUT factored into Biogen’s growth strategy?
Biogen has taken a strong stance to highlight the need for all employees to embed diversity and inclusion (D+I) into the culture. Consequently, Biogen added “Inclusive” as an expected behavior of all employees in the workplace. Being “inclusive” is more than the daily engagement between employees. It also encompasses the full employee life cycle, addressing bias in recruitment practices, hiring, promotions, pay and career development.
To learn more about Biogen’s Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, visit: https://www.biogen.com/en_us/diversity-inclusion.html
Yvette Pittman, Manager, Global Diversity & Inclusion; Meghan Scott, Lead, People Services Partner (HR); and Heather Bowen, Crystal Riley and Sini Ngobese, People Relations Partners (HR), contributed to this article.