May 19, 2020Read More
This past weekend, members of the LGBTQ community celebrated the end of Pride Month with festivities that emphasized unity, identity, self-esteem, and the value of diversity. The origins of Pride stretch back to the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. As noted by the Library of Congress, “The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.” But nearly 50 years later, the battle for inclusion rages on. For the sake of our economy, our business innovations, and our values, we must do better.
Instead of acknowledging the incredible contributions that diversity has played in society, too many people are still championing discrimination. While scores of Americans may have enjoyed cake during Pride picnics, countless more were cheering the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to prepare a wedding cake for a gay couple. Even more distressing, there seemed to be a greater level of emotional debate about “Cakegate” than the revelation that thousands of migrant children have been indefinitely detained in facilities that look suspiciously like internment camps.
LGBTQ talent are still fighting for the right to be open about their identities without the threat of retaliation or discrimination. While 91 percent of Fortune 500 corporations prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, analysts and business leaders admit that a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” reigns supreme. And there remain plenty of states where it’s legal to discriminate against gay talent.
Of course, with prejudice comes rationalization. A business case, some say. The baker has a right to refuse service to anyone, the argument goes. In terms of immigration, there persists this myth that foreign talent will poach jobs from Americans.
The reality for merchants is that discriminatory laws actually kill bottom-line profits. The whites in 1960 Greensboro discovered that the sit-in protests hurt their businesses more than integration ever could have. Overall sales at the time fell by 20 percent. Profits dropped by 50 percent. Conversely, sales soared at desegregated companies located in cities such as Dallas and Atlanta. Ultimately, within a year of the first demonstrations, businesses across more than 100 Southern towns and cities agreed to integrate.
For a modern perspective, consider the merchants in Mississippi who posted signs welcoming LGBT customers, in response to April 2014 legislation that allowed opponents of gay marriage to deny service based on religious objections: these businesses enjoyed tremendous spikes in sales.
Whether people realize it or not, some of the world’s most successful companies have openly gay leaders at their helms.
And the list goes on. But imagine if these individuals persuaded their organizations to refuse service to heterosexuals based on some exclusionary belief system. No iPhones. No plane tickets to Australia. No access to LinkedIn. Ultimately, poor business performance. Sure, the examples are absurd because, as genuine business leaders, these individuals understand that their prosperity is based on supporting as many consumers as possible. Inclusion benefits the bottom line.
And what about immigration? Right now, 55% of California farms are struggling to harvest crops at peak season due to a lack of migrant talent -- the workers who labor in the fields. For those Americans who lament that immigrants are stealing their jobs, a bunch of career opportunities just opened up, right? But on a broader scale, foreign-born talent have a positive effect on many aspects of the U.S. economy.
We have regularly questioned the need to continue making the case for diversity, because it’s already been made -- dozens of time over. Yet the charged rhetoric we continue to hear from politicians around the world indicates that the case must still be made.
Analysts and economists have consistently proven that promoting gender equality alone plays a vital role in retaining top talent, boosting bottom line profits, attracting consumers to brands, and embodying a work culture rich with innovation and progress. It isn’t just good for business, however. As McKinsey Global Institute’s study demonstrates, gender parity will dramatically improve the economy: “Every state and city in the United States has the opportunity to further gender parity, which could add $4.3 trillion to the country’s economy in 2025.”
At the heart of referendums such as Brexit or the Trump presidency, what emerges is ultimately a referendum on inclusion. Fears of immigration, gender parity, and LGBTQ rights stoke the flames. They appeal to a sense of stereotyping and ambiguous generalizations. As June Sarpong opined in her powerful article for the Guardian, these movements reinforce that “multiculturalism itself is under siege.”
Yet diversity is necessary for the legitimacy of any representative democracy. Over the years we have seen low levels of voter participation and poor engagement among minorities and other overlooked groups. Women, black and minority ethnic communities, young people or those with disabilities – huge swaths of the electorate have felt uninspired to exercise their right to suffrage.
This is in part because those representing the population have not reflected us in terms of ethnicity, gender, disability, class and sexual orientation. This failure has narrowed our political perspectives; if politicians are from similar backgrounds, and have similar experiences and outlooks, they begin to look unfamiliar to many of those they represent. That in turn causes people to disengage from politics.
The same type of disenfranchisement plagues corporate cultures that reward homogeneity. Companies are struggling to innovate and maintain a competitive edge. They seek to pioneer the next big ideas, reach a broader customer base, and attract talent with fresh perspectives. So here’s the question: how can an organization short on innovation make any strides by retaining the same kind of people who haven’t broken new ground? The reality, in any context, is that clamping down on diversity stifles innovation and progress. Similar people, similar solutions -- and problems. Simply put, it’s terrible for business and society.
Before any workplace diversity initiatives commence, the first step should really be a long look in the mirror. Business leaders must ask, “Who are we, who do we want to be, and will we stick up for everyone?” Here are some simple ways to proceed from there.
Diversity, as a workforce concern, seems to be in danger of becoming a data point -- or even a euphemism. We must do better. That’s the long and short of it. And the solution may be simpler and more direct than we’ve imagined. Instead of measuring diversity, reporting on it, and setting quantifiable targets to achieve some statistical threshold of acceptability, we need to speak up. And we need to allow everyone their voice.
Attaining a truly inclusive workforce begins with talking about diversity, championing differences, and defending equality -- vocally and visibly. If history has taught us anything, it’s that troubles flourish when people keep quiet, consider themselves powerless, or remain idle. And problems endure in that silence.