The Future of Workplace Inclusion: LGBTQ Equality

The business case for why equality is our business

On October 11th, The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub hosted a one-day summit titled “The Future of Workplace Inclusion: LGBTQ Equality.” This complimentary conference was presented by the Human Rights Campaign and supported by Acxiom, Argenta Wealth Management, Cranford Co., EGP PLLC, Tyson Foods, Walmart, Arkansas Times and Starbucks. The audience included corporate leaders, human resource and diversity managers, state and municipal leaders and others interested in learning about the business and economic development case for equality.
Participants learned best practices for making their business or organization inclusive of LGBTQ people, heard from corporate leaders who established inclusive policies and learned how to improve their business rating on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. The overarching theme of this event was the importance of building a culture of diversity and inclusion in Arkansas’ workplaces to create a stronger statewide economy.

Kendra Johnson, HRC Arkansas State Director, started the event by welcoming attendees and sponsors. Beck Bailey, Deputy Director of Employee Engagement at HRC, kicked off the first session on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. The CEI is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees.

The second session was a panel where business leaders shared best practices and experiences within their respective organizations. Deb Sinta, Vice President of Talent at Tyson, Jerry C. Jones, Chief Ethics and Legal Officer, Executive Vice President & Assistant Secretary of Acxiom, and Jane Behrends, Walmart’s Senior Director of Strategy, Changes, and Communications, were the panelists. The panel shared the following:
• We are focused on acquiring the most diverse talent and being the place that people want to come work.
• If it’s good food for business, associates and customers then it is good for the community.
• Expected behaviors should guide the conversation rather than individual beliefs.
• Businesses are seeing a transition in company purpose aligning with social good.
• It is important for organizations to practice top-down messaging related to human rights issues. If we don’t have human rights, then what do we have?
• What would happen if [insert protected class here] was discriminated against or treated poorly by customers, co-workers or suppliers?
• There is tremendous power in the private sector to drive social change.
• The business community has led the way in establishing diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Beck Bailey led the third session titled “Making the Case for Equality: Challenges, Opportunities, and Tools for Change.” During this segment, the question of “how sexual orientation and gender identity come to work” was raised. The answer is during water cooler conversations. “It’s about the little moments where we share our personal lives. What’d you do this weekend and who’d you do it with?” Having conversations with coworkers can build working relationships and increase productivity. However, these same conversations can cause discomfort for members of the LGBTQ community.

It has been proven there is a direct correlation between engagement and being comfortable at work. An example of this relationship can be found in the HRC Cost of the Closet report. “Employee engagement suffers by up to 30% due to unwelcoming environments.” This lack of engagement directly impacts the recruitment and retention of employees. A business’ reputation on fairness and equality not only affects current and future employees, but also customers and suppliers.

The LGBTQ community may represent roughly 4% of the population but they hold approximately $900 billion dollars in buying power. This number does not include allies of the community. Recently, there has been a rise in people looking to spend their dollars with companies that align with their values. Consumers are not the only ones who are being selective about who they do business with. Companies are also selecting their suppliers, manufacturers and distributors according to their social practices.

Key takeaways from “The Future of Workplace Inclusion: LGBTQ Equality” conference are as follows:

• The LGBTQ community and non-LGBTQ allies have substantial buying power.
• Businesses have a significant influence on communities and legislation.
• Sexuality and gender identity come up in everyday conversations.
• Workplace education and training vary depending on company climate. Some companies need more extensive training while others do not.
• Having policies that are inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees improves recruitment and retention.
• Regardless of company size, the Corporate Equality Index can be a resource for instituting inclusive policies.
• Expected behaviors should guide workplace practices rather than individual beliefs.

Moving forward, it is important for companies and organizations to adopt policies and practices that are inclusive to all people without regards to race, ethnicity, religious belief, age, gender identity, marital status, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Doing so will build a culture of diversity and inclusion in Arkansas’ workplaces resulting in a stronger statewide economy. Employers will be able to attract and retain talented employees, increase sales across market segments and improve the company’s reputation within the community and industry.