How Maersk created a network to provide space for its LGBTQIA+ employees  

As Copenhagen is in the midst of its annual celebration of Pride and companies around the capital display the rainbow colors, Fagbladet Luftfart meets Maersk for a talk about how the Danish company, which employs more than 160 FPU members, works to make employees feel included the whole year-round.

Visit from the Danish Minister of Equality. Documentary watching in the lunch hour. And Pride events that cater to people from all walks of lives. Those are some of the intiatives from a new network which was established about a year and half ago within the company Maersk.

The network was created to champion the interests of LGBTQIA+ individuals at Maersk and is spearheaded by Christian Wirawan, an Indonesia native, who works at the Maersk headquarters in Copenhagen.

“It’s a personal passion of mine. I joined Maersk in March 2021 and met many colleagues who were interested in the cause, and I realized that we didn’t have a global Pride community,” says Christian Wirawan, who is the Global Head of Middle and Last Mile Standards and Operations Excellence at Maersk.

The global network is mainly driven by volunteers and is among other things part of organizing Maersk’s participation in Pride in about 15 countries around the world. It was also recently highlighted by pilot and FPU member Philipp Agrafiotis when he spoke about his experience of being gay in aviation. Agrafiotis, who works for Maersk Air Cargo along with more than 160 other FPU members, emphasized how much this type of company support matters.

From conservative background to progressive country

For Christian Wirawan, coming to Denmark and working for Maersk has been a gamechanger when it comes to his engagement in promoting LGBTQIA+ interests at the workplace. He previously worked in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, and those were conservative places when it came to the attitudes towards the LGBTQIA+ community.

“In my earlier life, it was hard to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community because the environment wasn’t welcoming. I couldn’t have been as open in the same way as I am here because of fear of losing my job and the community. Even though I worked for international companies, it was not worth the risk,” says Christian Wirawan.

When his career took him to Denmark, and he realized there were only grassroot LGBTQIA+ communities within the company, he took a leap of faith and tried to organize a global network within Maersk.

“It wasn’t until I worked for Maersk that I felt I could be more myself at work and be more open about who I was. Coming from my background, I also knew I was at a privileged position at Maersk’s HQ in one of the most progressive countries in the world, and I wanted to make use of that to show other people that they are not alone,” says Wirawan

Executive support meant they could develop network

He started by organizing small meetings and that came to the attention of an HR business partner who thought it was a nice initiative and asked if they would like some support to expand.

“We needed to find executive sponsors who could advocate for us to the leadership so we could get support and a budget. It was a matter of getting them deeply involved, but we also needed to be specific with what we asked for because they don’t have much time,” says Wirawan.

They were successful and managed to get the support of Maersk Captain Thomas Lindegaard Madsen, a member of the Board of Directors, and Holly Landry, Maersk’s Chief Data Officer. This enabled them to launch the network in January 2022.

“The key thing is we facilitate the conversation. We don’t do activities because it’s marketing. We do it because we want to support employees to be who they are and create space within in the company, and the leaders have been fantastic at supporting us,” says Wirawan.

Christian Wirawan and his fellow colleagues involved with the network organize activities and events. They show documentaries, have discussions and just last week, they had a joint company event with Nordea, Novo Nordisk and ISS, and the Danish Minister of Equality, Marie Bjerre, participated.

Try to use embassy model

Maersk is a global company working in more than 130 countries, meaning that it operates in countries with varying attitudes to the LGBTQIA+ causes. Some employees work in countries that are not necessarily friendly-minded, and the network has been a way for them to connect with like-minded people, Wirawan explains.

“There are many who are thankful and feel we give them a place where they feel at home. I hear this from people who come from conservative places. They feel that there is a space for them in the company. There are as many viewpoints as there are cultural backgrounds, and some also think that LGBTQIA+ issues should not be company discussion. It’s fair that everyone has their own opinion,” says Wirawan.

“We try to use this embassy model. We’re not trying to do politics and intervene with local societies. The safety of our people comes first. Outside the company, many things can be improved but we will do the work inside the company making sure everyone is safe and that they can have their voice heard.

Global network helps plan Pride celebrations

The global network also means that Wirawan and his fellow volunteers have become involved in organizing Maersk’s Pride events. This week, Copenhagen celebrates Pride. Previously it would have been HR to organize it all, but the establishment of a global network means that the employees now have a direct way to provide input and ideas.

“Last year, HR took most of the charge organizing Pride but this year and more likely moving on, the community is taking the lead in organizing it. The biggest concept is that we create events for everyone. Not just for people who like to drink. The social culture here in Denmark can involve a lot of beer, but we want to provide space for all people,” says Wirawan.

For the Pride week, they have among other things have organized a Pride Run and Walk for those who like sports, and a day where employees can bring their kids to work to play with Lego while the parents can learn how to start conversations with kids in a child friendly about the LGBTQIA+ community. They have also organized a walking tour to visit Copenhagen’s gay bars and pubs and will participate in the Pride parade.

Further awareness is important

In the future, Wirawan hopes to raise more awareness within the company of the LGBTQIA+ community and promote understanding of the issues they encounter.

“In Denmark, the LGBTQIA+ rights are already part of the culture, but other places it is not as good. We need to gather more people because there’s a strength in numbers, and with the network at Maersk we can provide the space for people to mingle and connect,” says Wirawan.

For Christian Wirawan, it has been a very positive experience coming to Denmark and experiencing the culture both in the broader society and within Maersk.

“It’s been amazing for me that I get the chance to be who I am and do what I want. Denmark is 10 out of 10 for me and that includes being part of Maersk and the opportunities I get both professionally and with my work with Pride, and the society outside Maersk.”

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