“In 2021, most employers think having an LGBT employee means that their company is LGBT friendly, but being LGBT inclusive means a lot more than that,” says LGBT activist Shachar Grembek.
Grembek was honored this week as one of the top-100 outstanding role model LGBT+ executives in the world, in a list compiled by Yahoo Finance.
Grembek has been working in Israel’s tech scene for the past 20 years, and the most recent company he founded, a customer service automation provider called Reps AI, was acquired three months ago by KMS Lighthouse. But his communal work is what animates him more.
"That’s my day job, but my gay job is LGBTech, which I founded 12 years ago to build a community and promote diversity and inclusion for LGBT+,” he said.
LGBTech has two main focuses, Grembek explained. The NGO works with dozens of companies around Israel to foster understanding about creating an inclusive work environment where LGBT workers feel comfortable. It also works with LGBT role models from around the world to help LGBT workers feel like they can be themselves at work – “something that sounds obvious but is not,” Grembek said.
Grembek, who also serves on the Israeli advisory committee to the National Commissioner on Equal Employment Opportunities, is “a visible LGBT+ business leader, [who] leads by example, promoting inclusion and equity in the workforce,” Yahoo said in its ranking, where Grembek placed No. 35. He was also included in a similar list by the Financial Times several years in a row.
While Grembek still works with the company that acquired his start-up, he continues to work on a volunteer basis as the chairman of LGBTech, where he said there is still much work to be done.
“When I came out of the closet myself 12 years ago, I was very concerned about how it would affect my career – and it did,” Grembek said. “Those experiences are what led me to found LGBTech, so I could share the knowledge and experiences I had to help others.
“In our surveys, we found that about 30% of LGBTs experienced discrimination at work in 2019, and 90% of those did not report anything,” he said. “We work with employers to provide information and explain why it is important for a company to be inclusive. They need to understand the business value of acceptance. If an employee is given the space to feel comfortable, they are more productive, and stay at the company longer.”
However, he said, it is a common mistake for employers to think that the absence of hostility is enough. “Being inclusive is so much more than tolerance. It means making sure that the company culture is inclusive, that its policies are inclusive, and that it offers equal visibility to all workers.”
“A lot of employers take the approach that they shouldn’t talk at all about employees’ sexual identities: that it isn’t relevant for the workplace,” Grembek said.
“They don’t understand that it’s not enough. That’s like if you were told by work that it’s okay that you are Jewish, but please don’t wear a kippah or discuss it with your co-workers. We are helping companies learn to more actively accept their employees in a way that helps them feel like part of the team.”
In addition, “Israel’s laws don’t always provide for equality in the workplace, but employers can take upon themselves to ensure that their policies are equal,” in areas like ensuring that surrogate parents are given all the rights of other parents, he added.
LGBTech’s success in Israel has led it to expand, with chapters in France and the Netherlands, but Grembek said that the organization is now focusing its growth efforts on non-tech industries within Israel.
“We have begun working with a number of financial institutions, as well as retailer and food companies, and we are continuing to grow,” he said.