Why Are These Companies Supporting LGBT Rights?
Corporate America proves an ally for LGBT equality
In more than half of the United States, it’s still legal to fire someone for being gay. Yet, as participants learned in a recent Issues in Depth call, it was also in many ways a landmark year for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) equality – and perhaps most surprisingly, big business has been ahead of the curve.
Issues in Depth host Deena Fidas, Deputy Director of the Workplace Project at the Human Rights Campaign, described how in 2012, more companies than ever moved up the ladder on the Corporate Equality Index, a benchmarking instrument that ranks major American businesses.
Even if you're someone who doesn't consider employee equality a personal cause, it matters. Why? Because this is one social issue that can correlate to company performance. "The more successful businesses are, the higher up on the Fortune Ranking, the more likely they are to have inclusive policies and benefits for LGBT employees," says Deena. Here are three bottom-line benefits to supporting workplace equality.
1) Employee equality streamlines HR and operations
Big companies want to eliminate barriers to investing in their employees, says Deena. It doesn’t make financial or operational sense, when operating in multiple states across the country, to respond to a patchwork of different state laws. Extra time responding to issues related to tax differences and deductions often costs companies money and time on the human resources end.
2) Inclusionary policies drive productivity
Last year, Ken Powell, CEO of General Mills, faced backlash from conservative groups as he spoke out against a marriage ban on the ballot in Minnesota. But, as Powell so eloquently put it, equality is a business issue: “If employees cannot bring their full selves to work, and employees live in fear of living differently based on who they are, it comes at a cost to the company.” Others agree. In fact, a 2008 study by Stonewall Institute showed that LGBT employees who can be out at work are 20 to 30 percent more productive.
3) Business decisions don’t stay internal
When Issues in Depth participants asked about the benefits of prioritizing inclusionary policies, Deena cited the example of several companies that understand the value of anti-discrimination. In the case of IBM, inclusive codes of conduct implemented decades ago have put the business well ahead of federal law. In short, the company has bragging rights, and that matters. “The LBGT community has an estimated $790 billion – yes, that’s a ‘b’ – in buying power,” said Deena. “It’s a loyal and savvy market.” And inclusive policies have become a benchmark for more than just people who identify as LGBT, such as family members and allies. After all, how would you feel about a company that denied your brother or daughter health coverage that it readily extended to their co-workers?
Deena also highlighted the case of Brown-Forman (best known for producing beverages like Jack Daniels). In an effort to improve its ranking on the Corporate Equality Index, the company reached out for guidance, and went on to expand its anti-discrimination policies to include not only sexual orientation, but gender identity protection as well. When it’s still perfectly legal to fire an employee for their sexual orientation in 29 states (and, in 32 states for gender identity), these cases are especially important to highlight.
Starting the conversation yourself
If you work at a company that doesn’t have such progressive policies, you’re in a great position to start the conversation as an internal advocate. Some easy first steps?
- Investigate whether or not the company has an employee resource group (ERG) or diversity council. If not, that’s a perfect time to establish a connection with HR and try to start one.
- Become an active point person for that group. Oftentimes, ERGs form a bridge between the company and community at large – you just have to first seek out your senior advocate.
- When you have senior management’s attention, make it about business. Show others what your competitors are doing, and spread the word to co-workers.
And, as Deena reiterated at the end of the call, the closer you are to attaining a goal, the more people want to get involved. That is, in a nutshell, exactly why corporate involvement with LGBT equality has grown so much over the last few years.
“This issue is losing its charge as a divisive social issue," says Deena. And that’s a great thing as we look at the landmark cases and ballot measures coming up in 2013 – and years beyond.
To learn more about bringing social and environmental impact to your job, check out other upcoming Issues in Depths online dialogues.