Bayer employee Tobias Ludwig has set many goals for himself over the course of his life. But one of them was particularly close to his heart: for Bayer to take part in the Christopher Street Day parade in Cologne with its own float. He has now succeeded in that mission.
Let’s go,” calls out Tobias Ludwig before climbing the steps to the parade float and setting off. The caravan is rolling. It’s just after 1 p.m. on this July afternoon in Cologne. It’s sunny and hot – and it’s Christopher Street Day, the annual festive day of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community that is celebrated worldwide with colorful levity.
The parade in Cologne is one of Europe’s biggest: around one million people line the route taken by the 93 floats straight through the city. And although 34-year-old Ludwig has been familiar with Christopher Street Day for a long time, the parade in Cologne is special for him this time: that’s because this year, for the first time, Bayer is taking part with its own float and sending a signal on behalf of diversity and against discrimination. And Tobias Ludwig is part of the team that played a key role in making this debut possible.
In October 2012, he began his first job as a management consultant at Bayer. The next summer, while attending the parade in Cologne as a spectator, he thought by himself: “Why doesn’t Bayer have a float here?” Through an intranet search he discovered that there is a network of employees in the company who advocate on behalf of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people. He became active himself and soon joined the global leadership team of BLEND, as the network has been called since 2015. In 2016 the group met with Management Board Human Resources spokesman Dr. Hartmut Klusik, and it was Ludwig who asked the question: “Can we join the parade with a float of our own in 2017?” Klusik didn’t take long to come to a decision.
“Bayer represents diversity and equality, because it’s very important to us that all our employees feel comfortable in our company and get the opportunity to develop their full creativity and innovation capability,” says Klusik. The approval of the Board of Management meant that a float had to be rented and a colorful design concept found. The team also had to find items to throw from the float. The claim used by BLEND in Brazil, the United States and China decorated the parade float as well: “Bayer: Respecting Your Right To Be You.” It could be seen on the float and on the black t-shirts worn by nearly all 100 employees who celebrated on the artfully designed float or walked alongside it at Bayer’s Christopher Street Day debut.
“Bayer is aware of how important it is for a company to embrace diversity,” says patent lawyer Céline Bordin, who is a member of the BLEND organizational team along with Tobias Ludwig. “Today we could show the way we are,” she said following the three-hour parade. “And Bayer wants us to be this way. This means a tremendous success.”
Bayer offers jobs for anyone based on merit, regardless of gender, cultural background, sexual orientation and sexual identity.
Word has gotten out at Bayer all around the world – including China – about the advantages of an open company culture. “Bayer offers jobs for anyone based on merit, regardless of gender, cultural background, sexual orientation and sexual identity. Every employee deserves to feel safe and respected,” says Celina Chew, Senior Bayer Representative in Greater China. Thus it is safe to assume that the importance of BLEND will further increase – and that Bayer’s participation in Christopher Street Day's activities was not meant to be a one-off event only.
Five years of activity on behalf of diversity: how BLEND came to be
The global network BLEND was formed at Bayer in 2012. It advocates on behalf of equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual employees, fights discrimination and works on behalf of a company culture marked by openness and mutual respect. The network’s roots go back even further – all the way back to the 1990s, when a handful of employees in Berkeley and Berlin established groups that advocated on behalf of equality for LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender) employees in the Bayer Group.
Today the community is active worldwide and comprises some 500 members, including a steadily growing number of non-LGBT employees. For example, new BLEND groups were recently formed in the Philippines, Brazil and China. “BLEND is a growing network where collaboration plays an important role. Established groups support new ones. Many ideas develop locally and then spread globally,” says Tobias Ludwig, who was a member of the global leadership team of BLEND until recently. “We all contribute to diversity worldwide, no matter how old we are or what our sexual orientation is like,” says Céline Bordin, who heads up the German chapter of BLEND.
The objective of BLEND is to help Bayer become a globally visible role model for equality and to help people freely develop. The members of the BLEND community also support and advise interested Bayer employees on issues surrounding the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community and encourage non-LGBT employees to participate.
Tobias Ludwig will now pass on his responsibilities within the the global leadership team to someone else. “Mission accomplished – time for a change,” he says, explaining his decision. “It was a tremendous finale for me that Bayer took part for the first time.” He will continue to be available in an advisory capacity. And he also has a piece of advice for next year’s parade: "More things to throw please! It was a little too finely calculated,” laughs Ludwig.