Over The Rainbow: How BJPH Builds Inclusivity

Behind the Scenes|by Kris Villongco

In an era where companies slap the rainbow flag to show “solidarity” with the LGBTTQQIAAP (yes, the letters have increased recently), I often ask the question: Are they really one with us?

Before we get any further, let me set the tone: this will not be an article about the commodification of the genderqueer community’s struggle – there are far too many great resources on that. I’m an operations (gay) guy, and this is a discussion of how we are doing out best to champion inclusivity in Bonsey Jaden Philippines, or BJPH.

I would love to say that I sparked change and ignited the inclusive culture of our company. Unfortunately (for me), that isn’t the case. I got in and it already seemed like I was in Katy Perry’s California Girls music video – I felt at home. Coming from being told to “tone it down” or “man it up,” working with this team gave me a sense of being allowed to be myself.

Having been here for 3.5 years, my role has evolved, eventually leading me to an operations role from a Business Development responsibility. With that evolution came the opportunity to actually make an impact on how the company operated, from policy down to culture. What was essential for me was the chance to learn how BJPH’s culture ended up being way more welcoming and open compared to other organizations I’ve been a part of. Here are a few things we’re doing:

I have never seen anyone hired (or not) because of race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, or gender
I have never seen anyone hired (or not) because of race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, or gender. Picture: Bonsey Jaden, 2020.

BJPH looks for the best people in terms of skills and talent. That has always been the primary consideration when scouting for new team members.

But beyond evaluating experience and credentials, the company also puts a premium on people who have the potential to be great collaborators. Based on previous experience with companies’ hiring practices, I’ve personally witnessed a focus on prospects who look good on paper, but often neglecting the fact that they might not necessarily have the specific je ne sais quoi needed to complement the existing roster.

Yes, we disagree, have healthy discourses, and sometimes fight the desire to pluck our own eyebrows out – but at the end of the day, we are a team. We will agree, disagree, and agree to disagree but we will always, always be respectful of our colleagues’ work. Diversity and Inclusivity initiatives in many companies in the Philippines may not be as advanced yet, however, it was amazing to see how it organically unfolds in BJPH, and see corporate culture and policies evolve from that.

To a certain extent, the fact that my gender has absolutely no bearing on why I am here and the work I do is a big step towards genuine inclusivity.

I have never seen anyone hired (or not) because of race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, or gender. Picture: Bonsey Jaden, 2020.

We are still a young company — still in the continuous throes of process optimization and implementation of better policies. But one thing that struck me the most was how the company handles matters related to employees who are in same-sex and/or de facto relationships.

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for five years already. Given that same-sex relationships are still generally frowned upon in Filipino culture (not to mention that gay marriage is still unrecognized by law in the Philippines), I had often kept my guard up when discussing matters about my boyfriend in a professional environment.

When the time came that I had to attend to my partner’s pressing medical emergency, I had to second-guess how to go about approaching my boss and asking if I can file for an Emergency Leave. Without missing a beat, my boss, bewildered, just tells me, “Go! What are you doing here?” It never even crossed his mind that I was still new to the company and thus should not be afforded any leeway.

You see, this won’t fly in many other companies in the Philippines. I need not elaborate as I’m pretty sure there have been many times when my peers have personally witnessed a company’s’ inflexibility and lack of adaptability adversely impact their employees’ personal lives.

I count myself fortunate that our policies are considerate of people in any type of relationship – and I can only hope this is the future for all companies, as it should be.

Diversity is not just tolerated or accepted, it is celebrated
Diversity is not just tolerated or accepted, it is celebrated. Picture: Bonsey Jaden, 2020.

Back when I was a student (and when local Pride March attendance was in the mere hundreds), I always said I wanted acceptance over tolerance. It is still a struggle in many aspects of my personal life but I am glad my work life has not presented additional challenges in that respect.

From official BJPH company emails celebrating pride to seeing my coworkers dress in blatant rainbow colors the days leading up to pride celebrations, my heart feels complete. I’ve actually been in Drag for a couple of office parties – even in front of our bosses. (Yes, it’s a tamed down version of what you see on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, but I slayed!)

Oh, and did I mention we wear purple to celebrate Women’s Month too? Yep, and that’s just as awesome.

There is an understanding that the world outside our office may not be as pleasant
There is an understanding that the world outside our office may not be as pleasant. Picture: Bonsey Jaden, 2020.

At the risk of being too cynical, the world we live in now may be the farthest thing from ideal. Marginalized groups continue to suffer from diminished rights, with our community still being pushed to the sidelines.

Despite the strides we’ve made internally, we don’t live in a bubble.

So when a client disapproves of a concept that celebrates gender diversity out of fear of being too political or when we have no choice but to meet with people who might be uncomfortable with our identity, we do our work with dignity – and hope to prove them wrong at some point.

In complete and total honesty, being a gay man in the Philippines in our industry isn’t that big of a deal anymore. Thanks to the people who paved the way for us, queer people have been making a mark in the Branding, Marketing, and Advertising spaces in the Philippines for decades – which makes my life admittedly easier today.

But going outside the progressive space we’re building in BJPH, and even this industry, things are different with gay voices being continuously silenced. I am happy to have found a place where we are allowed to live our true and most authentic selves – regardless of gender identity and expression.

I am well aware that we as a society are far from finding genuine inclusivity, but something seemingly as “small” as a cultural upheaval within our Philippine office can create waves through the work that we create. With this is my hope that this can ripple out to a bigger change we all want to see in the world we live in.

Kris is driven by the desire to find the most innovative solutions in the Digital Marketing and Advertising space. A native of the Philippines, he knows the ins and outs of both the market and the industry in the country, and is set to explore understanding more diverse cultures around the world. Want to know more about what the Philippine office does, contact Kris at manila@bonseyjaden.com

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