Pride 2021: Interview with US Managing Partner Rob Henske
My name is Yan Zhan (He/Him) and I have been a Consultant at Roland Berger for almost two years. Since joining the firm, I have been deeply involved in advocating for LGBTQ+ voices and representation.
It is not lost upon me that the LGBTQ+ community would not have been afforded the opportunities they have today if it were not for the tireless advocacy and sacrifices made by previous generations. Thus, we must continue to build on existing progress and fight for a more equitable society. One way to do this is by continuously engaging with key decision makers and people in positions of power, especially those within government and the business community.
This year, to raise awareness and continue my advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, I have decided to kick off Pride Month by sitting down with Roland Berger's US Managing Partner, Rob Henske, to get his views on why it was important to him to actively engage in furthering diversity at Roland Berger.
Yanzhan: Rob, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and have this discussion for Pride Month. To start things off, I'd like to know what Pride Month means to you and specifically, why is it important?
Rob: To me, Pride Month represents a celebration of our differences and diverse backgrounds.
Apart from that, Pride Month is very personal to me because throughout the years, I had to embark on a learning journey. It started with my daughter coming out as a lesbian in middle school. As you know, middle school is a very difficult time, particularly because teenagers are not very understanding. That was a very difficult period of her life, as she discovered that she was no longer accepted by people that had been friends of hers since second grade.
Candidly, I felt very uncomfortable during her middle school days as well. Not only was it difficult to see my own child struggle with her sexual orientation, I also had to reset my own view on what I perceived was normal because at the time, identifying as gay or lesbian was not considered normal. But I saw the personal angst that so many of my friends and my own child went through…and it made me realize that some of the views I grew up with were just not right, because everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. This also made me realize that people within the LGBTQ+ community must overcome different, and frankly, more challenges in life than straight people do. Hence, even though much progress has been made over the past decade on LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms, there is still so much more to fight for to make sure everyone feels accepted in our society.
This is why we celebrate Pride Week at Roland Berger: To make everyone feel accepted and to provide eye-opening and learning experiences for the whole organization.
On a personal side note, I am so happy to announce that today, my daughter is married to our wonderful daughter-in-law. They have a child together and I am extremely proud to be a grandparent!
Yanzhan: Sharing your personal story is certainly not easy and I can understand the importance in which this topic holds for you. You mentioned briefly that the reason Roland Berger celebrates Pride Week is to help increase acceptance and provide learning opportunities for the organization. Could you expand on that?
Rob: First, we're a people business. Celebrating our people is an important dimension of our business because everybody at Roland Berger is smart, hard-working and capable. We want to promote diversity of thought and the best way to do that is to build an environment where everybody feels included, can bring their whole selves to work and can contribute to discussions with their own lived experiences - and this applies to all levels of diversity, including LGBTQ+ employees, female employees and BIPOC employees as well.
From the business side, I think more clients are viewing the support of LGBTQ+ rights as a clear and distinct priority. So not only is celebrating Pride Month and diversity good for our employees, it's also good for our business.
Yanzhan: I think that with other areas of diversity, such as gender diversity and racial diversity, where one can visually discern amongst people – whereas someone's sexual orientation is not something that is quite as noticeable. Because of that, there are unique challenges when it comes to addressing some of the issues with respect to diversity at the level of sexual orientation. From personal experience, I have experienced different levels of challenges and microaggressions, some attributed to my Asian heritage and some due to my perceived sexual orientation.
Given the unique challenges that LGBTQ+ employees face, what efforts has Roland Berger made to support such employees and specifically, what progress has Roland Berger made over the years?
Rob: The progress has been made on multiple dimensions. When I first joined Roland Berger about 9 years ago, we didn't have any affinity groups set up. But with the support of the Roland Berger Global management team, we now have two affinity groups that support our LGBTQ+ employees – Just be, for LGBTQ+ employees, and Just be Friends, for LGBTQ+ allies. These affinity groups have provided our LGBTQ+ employees with career support, HR resources, professional mentorship and a safe space to be themselves. Both affinity groups are especially important for our employees who may not feel comfortable coming out to all their colleagues and for those who work in countries where homosexuality is illegal. By providing employees with a safe space through our affinity groups, we are doing our best to try to make them feel welcome and accepted. As a matter of fact, the Just be Friends community is the largest affinity group in the firm, boasting more than 400 members!
Furthermore, we have given both affinity groups resources and broad latitude to organize events that advocate for our LGBTQ+ employees and the broader LGBTQ+ population. One example of this is organizing and sponsoring recruiting events that target LGBTQ+ candidates. At the end of the day, we want to let everyone know that they are joining a leading organization that creates great opportunities for everybody. The last thing we need is for people to think they are joining a predominantly white, straight, German, male organization – because this is just not true.
Moreover, one thing that has been well done by both affinity groups is educating our broader workforce on the importance of DEI and normalizing the discourse on certain LGBTQ+ topics, because this tends to be an area where people may be afraid to ask questions. In fact, Just be and Just be Friends has hosted company-wide events featuring LGBTQ-identifying business leaders, which also included intimate Q&A sessions. This is extremely important because I believe the first step to changing people's minds is through dialogue, exposure and education – I can attest to this from personal experience.
Finally, it is important to remove any barriers that could adversely impact the success of our employees and their career advancement. To support this point, we have updated our parental leave policy in the US, to be industry leading and gender/sexual orientation neutral by offering enhanced health and fertility benefits to transgender employees and same-sex partners. We have also done a lot of training at the senior levels around diversity, specifically around unconscious bias. Overall, as an organization, Roland Berger has embraced LGBTQ+ rights globally and will continue to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community moving forward.
Yanzhan: Over the past two years, I have seen much progress being made, especially through some of the events that Just be and Just be Friends has hosted. Out of all the Pride themed events hosted at Roland Berger, which one has been your favorite so far and why?
Rob: My favorite event was the Pride Jeopardy event that you helped organize, which had the biggest impression on me.
Yanzhan: Can you talk a little bit about that? First, explaining what it was, and then talking about what you learned from that event and what we did overall in terms of the impact that the event had on the firm?
Rob: The event was based on the show Jeopardy, where contestants had to answer trivia questions on a variety of LGBTQ+ related topics and each question was assigned a dollar figure. Employees were put into different teams on Zoom, which made it fun and competitive. Teams would choose a category and had 30 seconds to discuss and choose an answer. If the team answered correctly, they won the amount of cash that was assigned to the question. The goal was to maximize the dollars donated to charity. At the end of the game, we summed up the total winnings across the five teams and donated more than $500 to the Trevor Project, an American nonprofit organization focused on providing mental health services for LGBTQ+ youth. Not too bad for a lunch break event!
I particularly liked the fact that the event got people thinking about the topic of pride ahead of time. Additionally, the discussion component enabled people to talk about different ideas for what the answer could be and why they thought it would be the right answer. Quite frankly, some of the answers were horrifying - for example, we learned that homosexual behavior is still criminalized in 50+ countries around the world. But hearing these facts reinforced the notion that pride continues to be relevant and important. Nevertheless, the overall event was a fun way to address a serious subject and we were able to donate some money to a worthy organization.
Yanzhan: The last question I have for you is a bit on the lighter side - if you had to name your favorite LGBTQ+ celebrity or icon, who would it be and why?
Rob: I'd have to say Elton John. First off, he is a great singer and entertainer. I saw him live in Philadelphia before and he was fantastic. A bit more importantly to me, he has raised and donated more than 500 million pounds to social causes, so I respect him a lot for that.
Yanzhan: Rob, thank you so much for your time today. I know all the questions I asked may not have been comfortable or easy to answer, but I truly appreciate your candid responses and honesty. It was great to hear your thoughts and views on Pride Month and I hope we can make this year's pride celebration the best yet!