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Partner in respect: IBM

In October 1998, IBM awarded a $5000 grant to GLSEN. It was IBM’s first investment in a nearly 15-year partnership that has become a model of corporate support to an LGBT nonprofit.  In addition to funding, IBM has leveraged its education expertise in support of GLSEN, and IBM executives, like Tony Tenicela, Business Development Executive and Global Leader for LGBT Markets, have served on GLSEN’s board of directors.

In 2011, this partnership deepened further through a programmatic focus.  At that time, U.S. media had reported extensively about the devastating consequences directly related to school-based bullying. Tony knew about GLSEN’s programs to improve school climate, specifically around safety and respect.  He saw that both organizations shared synergies around respect as essential for a workplace or a school to be productive and believe there was an opportunity to change the circumstances that were causing LGBT students to skip class or receive lower grades by developing a program to teach students about respect as part of IBM’s global Centennial Celebration.

The collaboration produced an innovative initiative called Teaching Respect, an adaptation of GLSEN’s widely respected No Name-Calling Week, which offers developmentally appropriate lesson plans and resources for grades K-12. (In 2012, nearly 20,000 teachers used GLSEN’s materials to lead discussions in classrooms around the world). Once GLSEN agreed to work with IBM on the Teaching Respect initiative, a work team was formed to adapt six lessons from the No Name-Calling Week curriculum for elementary, middle and high schools. IBM also translated the lesson plans in multiple languages.

On IBM’s Day of Service, June 15, 2011, IBMers from around the world joined a one-hour company-wide introduction and training. Ron Glover, IBM’s Vice President of Diversity and Workforce Policy, and Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director, spoke about the innovative collaboration and long partnership between IBM and GLSEN. Tony and Silvy Vluggen, Global Program Manager in LGBT Constituency & Cultural Intelligence,reviewed objectives and procedures, and GLSEN conducted a training that helped participants understand the negative impact of bullying and the importance of respectful schools.

All materials, including the introductory training session and lesson plans in various languages, were stored on an IBM intranet site that also provided an online forum for IBMers to share and discuss their experiences and ideas. IBMers from over 20 countries expressed interest in Teaching Respect. And in Canada, it has been so successful that the program is ongoing.

“This initiative developed in partnership with IBM has been a valuable model for us to share with other corporate partners invested in our work to ensure LGBT students receive an education free from the harmful disruptions of bullying and harassment,” said GLSEN’s Executive Director Eliza Byard. “GLSEN’s effectiveness and reach of creating safe schools have expanded as a direct result of IBM’s innovation and incredible partnership that continues to pay out in dividends.” 

Through its partnership with GLSEN, IBM is nurturing a global pipeline of diverse talent that will foster respect and acceptance of difference for generations to come.