Chris Waite, Head of Corporate Affairs for IHG Japan, Australasia and Pacific

IHG Hotels and Resorts is uniting its LGBTQ+ colleagues through a supportive employee resource group with the recent launch of Out and Open in the Australasia and Pacific region.

Created to offer LGBTQ+ employees a safe and respectful place to connect, Out and Open is a global initiative within IHG that has had success in several other regions.

IHG’s Head of Corporate Affairs, JAPAC, Chris Waite, spoke exclusively to HM about the importance of community and connection, and his hopes for the group.

Why do you think it’s important to create a community like Out and Open within IHG?

As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, I’m excited to see Out and Open become a place where everyone feels genuinely welcome. It goes beyond just providing a space for LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies to connect; it’s a platform for positive change, community engagement, and helping our business – and industry – become even more diverse, fair, and inclusive. We want everyone to be able to bring their true selves to work every day.

I’ve had the privilege of co-founding LGBTQ+ networks in previous companies, and I have encountered the situation where some colleagues who weren’t comfortable being open about their sexuality with friends or family found a safe space within the employee group. This experience reminded me of the importance of community, connection and feeling valued, and that’s exactly what Out and Open offers.

By creating a welcoming, fun and supportive community within IHG, Out and Open not only benefits its members but also contributes to creating a workplace where diversity is celebrated, fairness is upheld, and inclusion is a natural part of our culture. I’m looking forward to making a positive impact and continuing moving towards a more inclusive future.

Does this initiative extend to all IHG employees – both within hotels and at head office?

Out and Open is for anyone who works for IHG or an IHG-branded hotel within Australasia and Pacific – and rather than invite ‘members’ to join, we invite people to become ‘Friends’ of Out and Open. As a group that is all about inclusion and diversity, it is important that we can offer this initiative to everyone in the broader IHG family. It helps that we have fantastic support at hotel leadership and corporate executive level – our SVP Managing Director, Leanne Harwood, is a Friend of the community, as well as an advocate and sponsor. We are thrilled to have more than 70 Friends in the network already – and we expect that number to grow as the word spreads.

What outcomes do you hope for from Out and Open?

Our mission is to build, support and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, as well as to foster an even greater sense of inclusion at IHG – all while having fun in a welcoming social setting. Being a new employee resource group, I want to ensure that what we do as a group is based on feedback and is a reflection of what the community wants. So, we will consult with our network of Friends to develop a calendar of events, but I’d expect that it might include community volunteering, providing input to the IHG Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Council, consulting with hotel teams on LGBTQ+ questions and issues, and getting out and having fun together – whether it’s attending Mardi Gras or Auckland Pride, attending the Queer Film festival, going to the theatre or just getting people together to socialise over a meal in their respective locations.

Has Out and Open proven successful in other regions?

We’ve been really fortunate to have the experience of Out and Open chapters around the world when we’ve set up the Australasia and Pacific chapter – and, of course, they’ve been very generous in sharing their wonderful assets, logos and learnings. Out and Open has been up and running in Europe and the Philippines for a few years, and for more than decade in the Americas, so it has a large and very engaged community and very established mission and calendar of activities. In June this year, we loved seeing all the photos of our Out and Open groups at Pride events around the world as part of global Pride Month – and we look forward to showing what we can do Down Under in March next year!

Tell us about the response to Out and Open since launching in Australasia and Pacific?

The response to Out and Open’s launch in Australasia and the Pacific has been truly heartwarming and inspiring. We launched on Wear it Purple day, August 25th, extending invitations to members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community to become Friends of Out and Open. Within days, we were thrilled to welcome more than 70 Friends into our group. What’s been particularly uplifting is the enthusiasm, support, and anticipation expressed by these individuals – many have shared personal stories about their own experiences and highlighted why they believe this initiative is so vital. I couldn’t be prouder of the IHG family for its energy and commitment to supporting such impactful initiatives.

As much as we’re excited to launch Out & Open and make a difference, we also look forward to a world where such networks are not needed because every individual, regardless of their background or identity, is celebrated and respected without question.

We recognise that we’re not entirely there yet and, for now, we are immensely pleased and proud to be using the power of community to make a positive impact together.

There’s an incredible energy within Out and Open, and no one knows how to have fun like this vibrant community.