Thomas Plantenga on Finding Joy in the Business Community during Pride Month
Thomas Plantenga, CEO of Vinted Group
Exactly a year ago, I wrote a piece in Delfi (a Lithuanian news website) calling for businesses, society, and the state to do more for the LGTBQ+ community in Lithuania. At the time, passions were running high over the same-sex Partnership Bill. Lithuania does not currently legally recognise same-sex unions, and after multiple attempts to pass the bill, it failed to make it through to parliament. A year later, we’re debating it again, but this time it’s a stripped-down version, the civil union law, which passed the first vote, and will go to parliament for a second vote later in 2023. By contrast, Estonia has passed a new law, making same-sex marriage legal. Progress? Depends who we’re asking. But on a more positive note, at least some Lithuanian businesses have started to make meaningful changes towards creating more LGBTQ+ friendly organisations.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have spent another year waiting for the law to recognise, at least with reservations, both themselves and their fundamental rights. Another year where two people who live together, and love each other, are still unable to have the same rights as others, simply because their family doesn’t look like or conform to the outdated married with 2.4 children family structure.
All of this affects not only the lives of people who identify as LGBTQ+, but also Lithuania’s economy and competitiveness. There’s a limited supply of skilled workers in the local market, which is why we and other companies in the country are working hard to attract workers from other countries. By not recognising the fundamental rights of a part of its population, Lithuania is a red flag in this area, and just like last year, it’s much harder for us to attract foreign talent to Vilnius and Kaunas than it is to attract them to Vinted's offices in Amsterdam or Berlin.
Foreign investors, or companies who are impressed by Lithuania's talent and ambition are also noticing the red flag warning signs of intolerance. Not everyone wants to build a global business in a country where the well-being of some of its workers will not be guaranteed.
On the other hand, I’m pleased to see progress in the country's business community over the past year. In the public sphere, organisations have increasingly discussed LGBTQ+ rights in the business context, and we have read reports from companies about equalising conditions - days off, monetary, and other issues - for all employees, regardless of their family dynamic.
At least within organisations, all these efforts create an environment where the LGBTQ+ community can feel safe and more confident to speak out about the difficulties they are facing. I see this within Vinted too.
Over the last year, we’ve made progress in this area. We agreed on a strategic approach for LGBTQ+ and other diversity and inclusion related questions, and we’ve conducted our first comprehensive study on our employee demographics. The latter revealed that Vinted's internal LGBTQ+ community is close to global averages, which, according to an Ipsos survey, is around 10% of the population.
Internally, a community of LGBTQ+ employees called ‘Queerted’ has come to the fore. Last year, we celebrated our first internal Pride Month together, and this year we’ve harmonised our parental benefits policy in all countries where we have offices. We will pay all families, including same-sex families, their full salary for a certain period of time, or make up the difference between that and state support where it is due. When state support is not granted, we pay the entire difference.
Within our organisation, we want to create a safe environment for all employees, through actions like these. And it works. This year, for example, members of our Queerted community have been much more active in raising questions and suggesting ideas. For example, they released an internal LGBTQ+ glossary to explain terms from the community, hosted awareness sessions with external speakers, and created a safe internal space for all LGBTQ+ members and allies within Vinted to exchange. A safe environment allows for open conversations and nothing to hide.
While equality is not being solved as a legal issue at a national level, our actions prove that we can all make a difference - at work, at home, or among friends. We, and Lithuania as a whole, still have a long way to go towards equality. I’m pleased that, little by little, there are more and more people on this journey. Let's break down the barriers of inequality, talk openly about this issue, share our experiences and make everyone feel safe.
I believe that the more of us there are, the sooner all the necessary changes will happen at national level, and the sooner the red flag of intolerance will be lowered, and no longer be able to fly.