Poland: will the influx of refugees be a game-changer in the Government’s rhetoric?

In early April, I hosted a closed roundtable among multinationals to exchange best practices in addressing LGBTQ+ rights within the workplace in Poland. Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is still high, often sponsored by the right-wing ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. The current situation for LGBTQ+ people has been described as “five years of hate.”

Homosexuality has never been criminalized in Poland, but there are no civil unions, and adoption by LGBTQ+ people is illegal. On the other side of the equation, local participants in the roundtable reminded us that Poland, particularly large urban areas, are tolerant with vibrant LGBTQ+ communities. For example, rainbow flags are flying on windows in Warsaw.

We discussed how recent geopolitical developments – the war in Ukraine – could be a game-changer in the governmental rhetoric. However, the recent spat between French President Emmanuel Macron and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki does not bode well. Yet, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will have significant consequences for Poland.

Poland’s economy has always been strong, making it less dependent on the EU and the private sector – two forces that push for greater LGBTQ+ equality. But, Poland has taken in an estimated 2.9 million of the more than 5 million Ukrainians who have fled the country, placing an enormous strain on the economy. Poland will also be disproportionately affected by Russia’s sanctions on the EU and the disruption to its energy supply.

In societal attitudes, the war could lead to social instability. Still, the influx of refugees and proximity to the war could boost values such as unity and respecting differences. In the meantime, international groups in sectors such as banking and consulting have played a more proactive role in creating LGBTQ+-friendly working environments.

During our conversation, we reiterated the importance for leaders to express support for LGBTQ+ employees in these difficult circumstances, particularly on key dates such as IDAHOT (May 17th) or Pride. Some 44% of LGBTQ+ people reported experiencing serious symptoms of depression in 2019-2020, up from 28% in 2017, according to a study by the University of Warsaw’s Centre for Research on Prejudice commissioned by the Campaign Against Homophobia group (here).

During the roundtable, we discussed what this looks like in practice and how leaders can create space for ERGs to emerge by focusing on providing resources and incentives for employees to come out and bridge differences with more conservative employees. One participant gave an example of a joint event between a Christian workplace group and an LGBTQ+ group. We also discuss how the Ikea case sent a chill on DEI initiatives even though it ended in an acquittal for the Human Resources Manager who was charged (read the details here).

Ultimately whether the Government changes its tone or not, a strong and independent judicial system remains the key to ensuring anti-LGBTQ+ movements such as the “LGBTQ+ free zones” remain contained.

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