HIV: One Facet of Diversity

SAP’s Joerg Beissel has a mission: He wants to put an end to discrimination against people with HIV and other chronic illnesses.

Beissel himself is HIV-positive. In June of 2019, he shared his story with a global audience for the first time. On the day his story appeared, SAP and more than 50 other companies gathered in Hamburg, Germany, to sign an official declaration opposing discrimination in the workplace against people with HIV. This was the starting point for the #positivarbeiten campaign launched by Deutsche Aidshilfe in conjunction with SAP and IBM.

Exclusion is What you do Yourself for the Most Part

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Exclusion is What you do Yourself for the Most Part

To fight discrimination, Joerg Beissel has become the “positive face” of SAP.
Video produced by Angela Klose.

Beissel volunteered to be the “positive face” of SAP in the campaign and to educate and answer people’s questions about living with HIV. Since then, he has traveled all over Germany to speak at events organized by SAP and IBM, with more activities planned. He has also been a guest speaker at several conferences and is in contact with political representatives and public authorities.

Here, Beissel shares more about his experiences.

Q: What were your expectations going into this campaign? Were they met?

A: What I wanted to do was educate people about the latest research into HIV and protection from infection, and in doing so correct the preconceptions and misunderstandings that still exist today. I want to dispel people’s fears and encourage them to get tested — because that’s the only way to reduce the number of infections and break down the kind of prejudice that feeds discrimination.

Every HIV story you hear or read involves a real person with their own individuality. HIV is one facet of diversity, and I wanted to show that I feel accepted at SAP just the way I am. Communicating values like openness and respect is very important to me. I always said that if my story helped just one person, then I’d count that as a success. What happened in reality was beyond my wildest dreams.

How many people were you able to reach?

I underestimated the global response I would receive. The article about me clocked up 80,000 views across several channels. More than 6,700 people from around the world left comments or wrote to me expressing their support for what I was doing. I also experienced some very moving personal encounters. Someone from the U.S. contacted me to thank me for bringing this subject back into the spotlight. A colleague from Africa – where HIV and AIDS are much more prominent issues – thought it was great that our initiative did not just involve talking about the illness, but put the emphasis on accepting our fellow humans for who they are.

How do you deal with criticism?

I’ve received a small amount of negative feedback, much of which stems from fear and a lack of knowledge about the facts. But I take everyone’s responses seriously and I give honest answers. I’ve found that is nearly always the most effective way to diffuse anger and resentment. Freedom to express your opinion is important, provided that you stick to the facts. And that’s part of the SAP culture that I’m proud of.

Is the attention you receive sometimes overwhelming?

Overall, it’s the positive moments and encounters I’ve experienced that stand out for me. I also attend official appointments in my free time, which can be pretty stressful. But my colleagues and managers couldn’t be more supportive.

Has it been worth it?

Absolutely! The initial activities had such an impact by themselves that it was worth it just for that! Not everything has to be perfect from the get-go: I’m not a perfect person, and SAP isn’t a perfect company. It’s about getting out there and taking the first step.

What’s next?

SAP and the other signatories to the declaration have become pioneers in fighting discrimination against people with HIV at the workplace. Next year, the declaration signed in Germany will be presented at the 2020 International AIDS Conference in San Francisco as a blueprint for the rest of the world. We’re also advising other companies and institutions, and maintaining an active role in public debate. In Germany, more companies will sign up to the employer declaration next year. Various other countries, Austria and the Czech Republic among them, are also drawing up declarations of their own.

What is your day job at SAP?

I trained as a gardener and I work for Global Real Estate and Facility in Germany. Together with two colleagues, I look after all of SAP’s green spaces throughout Germany – that’s a total area of 51 hectares. Our job includes creating the spaces, maintaining them, and developing them over time. We’re the link between the company and its plans, the employees and their needs, and the contractors that do the work for us. The most important thing for me is the added value that colleagues get from our green spaces. The greatest praise I can receive is walking through the gardens and grounds at SAP and seeing people using and enjoying them.

Support the campaign and join the conversation online with the hashtag #positivarbeiten.