The value of LGBT equality in the workplace

Despite the progress made towards LGBT workplace equality, millions of Americans today go to work fearing losing their jobs because of who they are or who they love. No current federal law protects LGBT workers from employment discrimination. According to surveys, more than 40% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and almost 90% of transgender people have experienced employment discrimination, harassment or mistreatment. This is not only bad for LGBT workers, it is also bad for business. Presented by Out Now, a new study LGBT 2020 – LGBT Diversity Show Me the Business Case, states that the US economy could save $9 billion annually if organizations were more effective at implementing diversity and inclusion policies for LGBT staff.

According to the Business Case for Diversity, today’s workforce is increasingly diverse in terms of personal characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation. In turn, it's found that a well-managed diverse workforce will both reduce costs and generate greater profit. Clearly, presenting business owners with an incentive to take action and incorporate LGBT supportive workplace policies.  Let's have a look how will the businesses benefit.

Benefits for the individuals

First of all, LGBT-supportive policies will have an immediate effect on individual people, resulting in less discrimination and increased openness about being LGBT. According to the survey conducted by the Williams Institute, The Business Impact of LGBT-Supportive Workplace Policies, LGBT employees who spend considerable time and effort hiding their identity in the workplace, experience higher levels of stress and anxiety resulting in health problems and work related complaints. Therefore LGBT friendly workplace will lead to the improved health, increased job satisfaction, better relationships with co-workers and supervisors, and greater work commitment among the LGBT workers.

Benefits for the business

Following the individual benefits, organizational outcomes will soon go along. Employers will benefit from lower legal costs related to discrimination lawsuits as well as lower health insurance cost, through improved health of employees. In today's business world, it is no secret that publicized discrimination causes current customers to leave brands. With adoption of inclusive policies, the negative public image discrimination brings would be avoided, attracting customers who are eager to do business with socially responsible companies. The company would be likely to gain a larger market share among the LGBT consumers. This is very important, since the number of same-sex households (80% increase from 2000 to 2010) and also the buying power of LGBT consumers is rising, estimating 20% increase from 2006 to 2012. Furthermore, LGBT costumers tend to be very brand loyal to companies who reach out to them. In a national survey conducted by Harris Interactive in 2011, nearly nine out of ten (87 %) LGBT adults said they are likely to consider a brand providing equal workplace benefits. 23% of LGBT adults have switched products or services because a different company was supportive of the LGBT community, even if a brand was costlier or less convenient.

LGBT staff who are able to be openly out in front of their colleagues are more likely to remain in their current position than the ones who are not. As a result, more effective implementation of diversity and inclusion policies, would among other things save significant amount of dollars spent on new talent recruitment and training. Furthermore, more diverse and open workplace will increase creativity, which will lead to innovation and new ideas. Finally, there will be a greater demand for company's stock because of expected benefits of diversity policies.

As a result of the research, employers across the country have considered the economic benefits of LGBT friendly workplace and many of them voluntary enacted a range of policies, non-discrimination included. In 1999, 72% of Fortune 500 companies included sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, and only couple of them included gender identity. Today, 89% of such companies include sexual orientation; and 66% prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Also, many Federal Contractors have enacted policies on LGBT workplace equality. Of the largest 50 federal contractors, 86% prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and 61% prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

In 2007, only 8 years ago, BP chief Lord Browne, had to resign from his position after he was outed for being gay. "For the past 41 years of my career at BP I have kept my private life separate from my business life. I have always regarded my sexuality as a personal matter, to be kept private." Mr. Browne said while stepping down from his function. It was unacceptable back then to be gay in business, and most definitely the oil business. Today, the CEO of Apple, the most closely watched company in the world, voluntarily steps out and says, "I’m gay." Causing supportive reactions across the business world, the media and politics, not impacting the Apple brand whatsoever.

Corporate Equality Index, the road map for adoption of inclusive policies

Every year the Human Rights Campaign publishes Corporate Equality Index, which serves as a road map for major U.S. businesses’ adoption of inclusive policies, practices and benefits for LGBT employees. In order to receive a perfect 100 score, the company must have, among other requirements, (1.) equal employment opportunity policy including sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in place; (2.) equivalent spousal and partner benefits, accompanied by the transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage; and finally, provide (3.) competency training and resources measures together with an either employee group or a diversity council. In this year's 13th edition a record number of 366 business achieved a top rating of 100%. In its initial year, a decade ago, only 13 business achieved the highest rating. The outreach of the survey has also increased over the years. Having 781 companies rated today, including an impressive number of 46 new brands opting into the survey this year.

Recently, many have recognized both the advantages and the shortcomings of such a list. Some question the accuracy of list of qualifications necessary for gaining the 100 points, while others point out the fact that the EI does not consider a larger picture of a corporation's actions and its wrong doings.

A recent law suit filed by trans woman Leyth Jamal against Saks Fifth Avenue, has shown the persisting gap between what is written on paper and the lived reality. Ms. Jamal was terminated after speaking up against a supervisor's request to not dress and present as a woman at work. The story has make the headlines after the response Ms. Jamal received at the court. Saks & Co. has filed a federal motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the transgender community not being protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The high-end department store has both protections, on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, in place. It also scored 100 points in the Equality Index for several years. While Saks & Co is publicly undermining its own policies, the situation is negating the policies that Saks told HRC for the Corporate Equality. With the wave of criticism and the circumstances following Ms. Jamal's suit, HRC is changing the requirements for CEI to address the diversity and inclusion policies more accurately. Also, being concern with Saks attitude, the positive score of 100 was suspended for Saks & Co for an unspecified period of time.

We are experiencing today, a shifting landscape, where American attitudes and business practices change towards a more acceptable and tolerant environment. A rising number of business owners realize that equality is good for business. They acknowledge that their employees need to focus on making the most of their talent and skill, rather than worrying about losing their job to discrimination. Still, the gap between policies promoting equality and the reality for LGBT workers is pervasive and striking. In its most recent report, Accelerating Acceptance, GLAAD revealed that approximately 1 out of 3 non-LGBT Americans still feel substantial levels of discomfort with LGBT co-workers. To build a workplace where LGBT employees are not just tolerated but accepted and welcomed takes more than employing the best non-discrimination policy and have the largest Pride parade marching group. Even though those are steps in the right direction. Earning a perfect score and being labeled the "best place to work" for LGBT people is not going to make the problems LGBT people face go away. The change will come through the effective implementing of non-discrimination policies but also through the deeper understanding and empathy from Americans themselves.