In October, I attended the 20th annual Net Impact Conference in Baltimore, where an inspiring collection of over 2,700 people dedicated to using business as a vehicle to tackle the world’s most pressing problems met. Every breakout period featured over a dozen compelling panels and workshops, putting my strategic decision making skills to the test as I tried to decide which session to attend.
On Saturday afternoon, I chose wisely by attending a panel entitled The Business Case for LGBT Equality. As a an entrepreneurial lesbian, I have worked independently throughout my career and have not paid close attention to the experience of gays in the workplace. But these are my people, so I was pleased that Net Impact had presented this opportunity to learn about an issue close to my heart. It was one of the more engaging, fun, and informative panels of the weekend for me, and not just because Laura Clise, Director of Sustainable Development for the energy company Areva, opened up the session with a rap that the crowd clapped and snapped along with to create the beat.
First and foremost, it was impressive to learn about all of the progress that has occurred for gays in the workplace over the past ten years. Deena Fidas, Deputy Director of the Workplace Project from the Human Rights Campaign, spoke to the success of HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks large U.S. employers according to their policies and practices pertinent to gays. Fidas explained that in the last decade it has now become standard in many industries to receive a perfect score of 100. This has created a dynamic pressure pushing companies to adapt their policies in order to stay competitive. In this way, business is not waiting for public policy to legislate equality; rather corporate America sees the writing on the wall and is adapting its policies to be viewed on the “right” side of history by the public.
Steve Lippman, Director of Corporate Citizenship at Microsoft and Gwen Migita, VP of Sustainability and Community Affairs for Caesars Entertainment, also sat on the panel. Lippman asserted that making the overt business case for equality is like trying to be cool by telling everyone you are cool. The LBGT landscape in many ways has moved beyond this. Both Lippman and Migita articulated that enough companies have evolved to create inclusive cultures and policies that this has now become a part of their competitive advantage in attracting and keeping talent, both gay and straight. Companies that do not adapt will eventually find themselves lagging behind. Check out this Harvard Business Review blog entry Big Business Increasingly Supports Gay Rights by Clise and panel moderator Susan McPherson, Director of Global Marketing for Fenton, to learn more specific reasons why Google, Starbucks, Nike, General Mills, and other large companies are changing their policies to support LGBT equality.
Of course, the playing field is not totally level and there is still progress to be made. One arena highlighted by Fidas is the opportunity to develop more leaders and champions among straight people who are dedicated to LGBT equality in the workplace. This will strengthen the cause and demonstrate that LBGT equality is an issue for all of us to celebrate and fight for. Modeling this type of active support for us that day was the panel’s moderator Susan McPherson. Her enthusiasm and presence lent greater credibility to her character, which demonstrated to me the positive and reverberating power in standing up for what you believe in, regardless of whether you feel directly impacted.
The case for LGBT equality in the workplace and in discussions of sustainability was clear to the crowd that day. When everyone can be fully present and comfortable as themselves, amazing things happen. More and more companies are realizing that by not taking proactive steps to improve their workplaces for all employees they are ultimately hurting themselves.
If you have any ideas about how BGI can further explore this subject please comment here or email me. I would love to collaborate to explore this issue with Net Impact BGI and the Diversity and Social Justice student group.
By Hannah Gant
Hannah Gant lives in a world of possibility and sees opportunities for improvement everywhere. She marries a diverse background as a cheesemaker, farmers’ market manager, farmer, and entrepreneur with the knowledge, skills, and tools of a sustainable MBA from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. A powerful alchemy of reflection and action, Hannah is intrinsically motivated to dedicate her time and energy to catalyze improvement and innovation for individuals, businesses and nonprofits, and the larger systems that shape life. Currently she is a co-chair of BGI’s Net Impact chapter.
Social Equity Series
The Social Equity Series features members of the BGI community sharing their knowledge, insights, and experiences on social equality issues as pertains to sustainable business.