The two percenters
On December 10, International Human Rights Day, few Australians will focus attention on the persecution of left-handed people. Such persecution still exists, but not in mainstream Australian society. This is not because left-handers have suddenly become more or less “sinister” than they were in previous generations. Rather, it is Australian society that has changed, improved, and largely done away with the thoughtless prejudices that saw left-handers stigmatised for a natural, physical trait that they had no control over. For other minorities, we as a society are still changing and improving.
Last week I attended the Pride in Diversity Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Workplace conference. KPMG is a key sponsor of this annual conference and is one of Pride in Diversity’s Foundation members. This association is for me a clear demonstration of the firm’s vision of empowering change, as well as inspiring confidence. It is not just about improving the bottom line through higher productivity, improved collaboration and diversity of thinking, and reduced staff turnover and absenteeism rates. There is a fundamental human rights element to this where all staff should be entitled to be physically and psychologically safe in their work environment.
Looking beyond the corporate world, the LGB community has benefitted greatly from society’s relatively recent support for its right to exist without harassment, arrest, or incarceration, to live without fear of violence, or discrimination in the workplace. Acceptance of Australia’s lesbians, gays and bisexuals has sped along in recent years, with Victoria and New South Wales for example recently passing bills that expunge the criminal convictions of men who were charged with “unnatural offences” before the law was reformed in 1984. Marriage equality remains an interesting anomaly for Australia, but if countries such as Argentina, and even South Africa, can get there, Australia can too.
But back to the conference. The presentation that stood out for me was on intersex inclusion. While I was somewhat familiar with what intersex meant, this was a significant moment for me as I had never (to the best of my knowledge) met an intersex person before. Nor had I really considered why intersex inclusion was as important as LBGT inclusion. I was struggling to relate this back to how this was an important workplace matter.
A quick note on terminology may help here. The L, G and B in “LGBTI” refer to a person’s sexual orientation. It’s about being physically and emotionally attracted to someone of the same sex. T is for transgender (referred to these days as trans*) and relates to how a person’s gender identity (male or female, or X) relate to their physical features. In highly simplistic terms, this is whether someone who physically presents as a man or a woman actually identifies psychologically as a man or a woman. Things are not as straightforward with intersex.
Intersex people are born with physical, hormonal or genetic features that are neither wholly male nor wholly female, or a combination of male and female. Many forms of intersex exist – it’s an umbrella term rather than a single category. What struck me was not just how little I knew about the subject (intersex is as common as people with red hair, i.e. around 2 percent of the population), but also the ethical and health (physical and mental) complexities that are intrinsically linked to intersex.
Intersex people need clear messages from their employer that they are welcome and that identifying as intersex rather than male or female is okay. Intersex is about variations in biology, not gender identity or sexual orientation.
Just like we look back at the treatment of left-handers throughout history, I expect future generations to look back with significant embarrassment and disappointment at how we have treated intersex people and others in the LGBTI community. The same I think can be said of Indigenous Australians and constitutional recognition. But we, as a society, are redeeming ourselves. Our understanding of intersex issues is steadily improving with legal rights for trans* and intersex people becoming ever stronger. Australia is leading the globe on LGBTI rights following the inclusion just last year of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act. KPMG has a strong commitment to an inclusive workplace through its Diversity & Inclusion strategy that includes LGBTI and a Transgender policy.
We should be proud.