Last week, Deena Fidas, HRC’s Director of the Workplace Equality Program, participated in a virtual debate for The Economist about LGBT rights and businesses.
Fidas was asked, “Should businesses focus only on working toward greater equality for their LGBT workers across the world? Or should they also be advancing social change for all LGBT people?”
“In reality, it’s not an either/or proposition. There is a revolving door between any workplace and the society outside. When corporations include more LGBT people, they inevitably spur greater social acceptance outside the doors of their businesses. When LGBT people feel welcomed and are able to bring their full selves to work, their visibility quietly and profoundly changes the attitudes of those around them. Simply put, it becomes difficult to cling to stereotypes and biases about LGBT people when they are your employees, co-workers and managers—and your friends.
Since 2002 the Human Rights Campaign has teamed up with businesses in our annual Corporate Equality Index. This report benchmarks companies’ progress towards LGBT inclusion. For example, the index charts how a majority of Fortune 500 companies provide specific workplace protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, alongside other categories such as race and religion. A majority of businesses in the index are even extending these protections to their staff who work in their overseas locations.
One reason companies are doing this is that there is a clear and growing business case. They are now translating this business case and goodwill into advocacy for social and legal change: take the experience we have had in America with marriage equality.
Very few businesses stood up to oppose Proposition 8 in 2008, a law that killed marriage equality in California. After LGBT activists and their allies lost that battle, the fight for same-sex marriage was waged state by state. By the time the question came up in New York state in 2011, dozens of businesses were lining up to support marriage equality. Companies from Google to Goldman Sachs were publicly supporting equality in the name of fairness, and in the interest of business.
Businesses realized that marriage equality and LGBT legal equality no longer only concerned people outside their doors. Rather they directly affected their own valued leaders and employees. Corporate leaders made history by speaking about how their world view was being shaped by LGBT mentors, their LGBT workers’ children and families, and, in some cases, their own sexual orientation. Employee network groups for LGBT workers swelled with participation by non-LGBT allies.
But as some states extended the right to marry to same-sex partners and others did not, the patchwork of laws left businesses with a frustrating and costly mess of state and federal tax implications for their workers’ health-care benefits. Businesses were feeling the cost of inequality and recognizing that it would require their collective clout to resolve the administrative headaches associated with the unequal legal and tax treatment of LGBT families.
The social change we are witnessing began with businesses blazing the trail, offering partner benefits and LGBT workplace protections well ahead of the law. These same leading businesses are the ones that helped bring about full marriage equality. Could they have done it without first recognizing the diversity of their own employees? Most certainly not.
All the businesses that have stood up for LGBT equality are doing so as fully invested entities. They are not waiting for the laws to change: they are bringing equality to their workplaces and beyond. Globally, more and more LGBT people are now able to be themselves in their workplace—even when the culture around them remains hostile.”
Last fall, HRC announced the creation of a groundbreaking global business coalition committed to advancing LGBT workplace equality around the world. The members of the coalition recently joined Vice President Biden at a round table in Davos, Switzerland during the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.
On March 3, HRC President Chad Griffin will join business leaders with a stake in LGBT equality at The Economist's Pride and Prejudice conference.
Non-discrimination policies, benefits and other practices that include LGBT workers are essential for businesses as they compete for talent and customers. Through pioneering tools like the Corporate Equality Index, HRC works to provide employers the resources they need to improve and promote fairness in the workplace. Learn more about out how corporate America is working toward adopting inclusive policies and practices here.