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Supporting LGBT Employees Is a Patriotic Act

August 13, 2019, 10:00 AM UTC
The rainbow pride and American flags fly in the wind together.
The rainbow pride and American flags fly in the wind together.
Johnrob—iStock/Getty Images Plus

Twenty-five years before becoming a CEO, I interned for Mary Bonauto, one of the attorneys who argued Obergefell v. Hodges, the last major LGBT civil rights case heard by the Supreme Court. Mary used more red pen on my draft documents than I imagined possible, but alongside lessons about accuracy and specificity, she and her colleagues taught me about organizational leadership and the importance of fighting for our shared humanity in and out of work. 

Obergefell granted my family the right to be treated as all other families under U.S. law. When I go home to my husband and three children each night, I am grateful that our household—with its last-minute lunches and packed schedules and scraped shins—is both recognized and federally protected. Every American deserves the right to enjoy that same comfort and confidence in their place of work—without question, variation, or interpretation. 

Last month, I joined with fellow CEOs of more than 200 major businesses in signing a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on three cases that could decide whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans are protected from discrimination under existing federal civil rights laws.

It’s obvious why I would personally care about these three cases. But with marketplace competition at its highest in years and a degree of global economic and geopolitical uncertainty unseen in decades, why would businesses as diverse and respected as Apple, GlaxoSmithKline, and S&P Global expend time or political capital on the issue of sex discrimination? 

It’s simple: Protecting LGBT workers is good for business, it’s good for society, and it’s good for people. 

“Good for business” isn’t just a buzz phrase. Creating environments that encourage all employees to bring their full identities and experiences to work enhances our collective productivity. Less psychological and emotional energy wasted on worrying about bias and discrimination and their effects on performance and career opportunities leaves greater discretionary energy to focus on a company’s work and results. And fostering representation of the full range of adult human experience in the workplace increases the likelihood that we reflect and connect with our customers—a bare-minimum expectation of any business that engages with consumers in 2019. 

As CEO of a leadership strategy consultancy, I regularly interact with other CEOs and executives across industries on issues of importance to organizational and business leadership; in the past five years, the number of organizations requesting our support for and ideas related to progressive practice in inclusive leadership and diversity has increased more than 10-fold. Employees expect thoughtfully inclusive environments that make the most of their talents and experiences, and customers want to engage with brands that reflect their own humanity. In 2019, 571 major American businesses earned scores of 100% on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, designed to measure corporate policies and practices that matter to LGBT employees. 

Supporting LGBT employees at work isn’t just about performance and productivity; it’s also about patriotism. When our government fails to meet the full needs of its populace, business has long intervened to help. The current Supreme Court cases are not only about sexual orientation and gender identity; they are about discrimination against LGBT people as a manifestation of sex discrimination. Like us, many of the organizations that have signed on to the amicus brief recognize that woefully inadequate statutory requirements for paid parental leave—yet another manifestation of sex discrimination—warrant going well above and beyond the law in providing support for new parents. 

That patriotism is also about representing the will of the people. A national poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in April found that 92% of Americans believe that employers should not be allowed to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or sexual identity. And yet, almost half of all Americans incorrectly believe that federal law protects lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Patriotism, productivity, and performance aside, business support for LGBT employees is also profoundly personal. We CEOs are business leaders, but we are also parents, family members, students, teachers, people of faith, community members, and much more. The stories of LGBT Americans in the workplace are our stories and the stories of our loved ones. They are the stories of CEOs like Tim Cook of Apple, Beth Ford of Land O’Lakes, Martine Rothblatt of United Therapeutics, and James Fitterling of Dow Inc. And they are my own story too. 

This October, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners and two related cases. Regardless of the outcome of these hearings, though, many major businesses will do whatever we can to create conditions that recognize and celebrate the humanity, importance, and contributions of all our employees, including our LGBT team members. We only hope that our government will do the same. 

Eric Pliner is the CEO of YSC Consulting, a global leadership strategy firm. 

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