North Carolina Got the New Bathroom Law Wrong, but Businesses Can Make it Right

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory
UNITED STATES - MARCH 8 - North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory speaks at the Wake County Republican Party 2016 County Convention at the N.C. State Fairgrounds, in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Photograph by Al Drago—CQ/Roll Call

Like many, I watched with sadness as North Carolina’s leadership passed a law known as House Bill 2 that discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Understandably, this feels like a punch in the gut to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. It’s also a punch to those who are straight and can’t reconcile what our lawmakers have done with the North Carolina we know and love.

Discrimination in any form should never be tolerated. It’s simply unacceptable. There is no justification. And it’s up to all of us to speak out when injustice rises. However, business has an especially strong voice, and the actions taken in recent days give me hope that its power for good is being realized and harnessed.

As dean of a business school, I interact every day with not just future business leaders, but current ones. I’ve observed for some time a new kind of leadership. These are CEOs like Apple’s (AAPL) Tim Cook, Unilever’s (UN) Paul Polman, and Salesforce’s (CRM) Marc Benioff. They lead some of the world’s most powerful companies with complete authenticity and don’t make decisions based on the bottom line alone. It’s no surprise to me that these companies spoke out against recent actions in states like North Carolina and Georgia that discriminate against the LGBT community. But what makes me proud is that so many other companies did as well. IBM (IBM), American Airlines (AAL), and the NCAA (just to name a few) expressed disgust at the North Carolina law and threatened that the decision could impact future investments in the state. Indeed, Paypal (PYPL) has already cancelled plans to open an operations center in Charlotte that would have created about 400 jobs.


This is how business should work. It should be a change agent. Simply put, business has the power to affect real change in ways that governments, politicians, and activists alone can’t. It’s heartening to see a societal shift in the United States where many businesses are meaningfully figuring that out. Doing the right thing isn’t just a nice platitude, it’s a winning business strategy.

All of this makes me optimistic about the future of business and its impact on the world. I look into the faces of our MBA students every day and I see such amazing potential and such desire to do more than ensure their own financial success. I hear discussions daily about the power that lies in difference. It’s not just lip service: This generation of business school students genuinely understands how diverse perspectives challenge us and make us stronger. It’s no surprise to me, almost immediately after the North Carolina law passed, our students were talking about organizing forums to lead conversations on the issue to better understand the perspectives of those who feel marginalized even though the law doesn’t apply to private universities like Duke (who I’m proud to say strongly came out against it).

So to the brave businesses leading the effort against this law, I applaud you. Thank you for your commitment to ensuring inequality doesn’t win. I hope you are setting a precedent for generations to come.

Bill Boulding is dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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