"BNP Paribas is a natural supporter of diversity in the broadest sense of the term" Jean-Laurent Bonnafé - La Tribune
Friday, May 17, International Day Against Homophobia and Transophobia, Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, Director and Chief Executive Officer of BNP Paribas, reviews the initiatives taken by the Group in favor of LGBT +. Interviewed by Irène Frat, published in a special issue LGBT in companies of the weekly La Tribune.
You are the only executive of a French company to be listed (in fifth place) in the OUTstanding international ranking. Why are so few following your lead?
The purpose of these rankings is to raise awareness and encourage reflection. So I don't feel alone! Based on the progress made in the last decade, in 10 years’ time I may well have been overtaken by many others and be well down the OUTstanding ranking! Also, I'm sure there are chief executives out there who would like to get involved, but a lone decision without the support of an entire team would be counter-productive. It must be a collective decision. This was the case for BNP Paribas. It's a company open to different cultures and realities and a natural supporter of diversity in the broadest sense of the term.
Can you describe why you are driving the initiatives of BNP Paribas?
While I have rarely seen any discrimination against the LGBT+ community in the company, when I was a student – a long time ago – I witnessed some situations that came very close to physical violence. And those who suffered had no key to understanding why they were being attacked. That resonated with me. But what was pivotal was hearing a number of colleagues say, ‘There are problems; we need to take an interest and do something’. Things happened fairly fast, not least because we received signals from London and New York. Actually, there were already networks within the company.
And now, everything is coming together. I'm therefore very optimistic. And pragmatic. Rather than talk about the universal issues of identity, I focus on common sense and kindness. Any time we can do something to make someone feel more comfortable or more open, or better understood and more valued, it’s always a good thing, on this or any issue. You can pretend to be different to what you really are for a day or two, but to feel at ease, especially in areas such as innovation or risk taking, you have to feel completely welcome. When you create a more welcoming environment, it's quite natural for employees to give you their full commitment. That's not necessarily what started the movement in organisations, but it’s a fact.
Any time we can do something to make someone feel more comfortable or more open, or better understood and more valued, it’s a good thing, on this or any issue.
And the movement is becoming increasingly widespread even though it can't be quantified. Also, having straight allies is crucial: this principle must apply across the entire company. Anyone can feel affected and want to get involved on a personal, family or professional basis. That's what we are seeing at BNP Paribas.
When you create a more welcoming environment, it's quite natural for employees to give you their full commitment.
In practical terms, what action is being taken?
In 2015 we signed the Charte d'Engagement LGBT+ of l'Autre Cercle. We have hundreds of thousands of customers in the 72 countries in which we operate, and have received a lot of emails, particularly from people who didn’t share our view that a company could actually do something, or they thought it was a mistake... Some comments were almost hateful, which just makes our decision all the more justified. After all, if it produced that kind of reaction, there is definitely a problem. We probably lost a few customers, but these are not areas for which we should be held to account. By contrast, within the company itself, we received lots of encouragement and signs of appreciation. We did what we had to do. Were we right? Of course! Furthermore, our decision to sponsor the Gay Games, as well as the networks, which are individual initiatives, has made the movement more powerful. And if any LGBT+ person is treated badly or disrespectfully, we handle it in the same way as general harassment. The procedure begins with an individual interview and may lead to disciplinary action, demotion or even dismissal. Awareness campaigns and preventative measures must have sufficient impact to avoid any form of discrimination. At BNP Paribas we believe in the need and the interest to be as open as possible but we cannot make progress on our own. Schools and society must create more open-mindedness. We are all in this together.