Thursday, November 23, 2006

Why GLBT-friendly policies are smart for businesses and investors

While updating my post Socially Conscious Finances: Spotlight on GLBT today, I noticed a comment which I'd meant to respond to but hadn't gotten around to. The commenter suggested that companies are financially better off avoiding gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender issues because they'll have people upset with them either way. My main reason for supporting GLBT-friendly companies (and avoiding those that are anti-GLBT) is because I believe it's the right thing to do. But I also think the commenter is wrong, and that it's smart financially for businesses to do right by GLBT people-- and consequently for investors to pick companies that do so.

Anonymous wrote:

Isn't this kind of a double edged sword? One group of people will love these companies yet another group (Social Conservatives) will hate them. Wouldn't it be in a companies best interest to just try and avoid the whole issue as much as possible?

Well, first off, there's no such thing as "avoiding the whole issue"-- if you stick with your status quo, and that status quo is a hostile/unfriendly one for GLBT employees, then that's not being neutral/"fair"/whatever, it's anti-GLBT. (This perception comes up a lot-- that avoiding change is a neutral choice, when it's actually supporting the status quo.) I suppose the closest a company could get to "avoiding the whole issue" would be to adopt policies somewhere in the middle of the pack, after many other companies have done so but before they're clearly lagging, either, so they don't draw much attention.

Secondly, I'm not convinced the two sides cancel each other out from a consumer standpoint. One recent poll found that heterosexual respondents favor workplace non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation 62% to 14% (the rest neither supported nor opposed)-- and even more revealingly, 44% strongly support non-discrimination policies and only 8% strongly oppose. People feel similarly about equal benefits such as health insurance for domestic partners: 68% support them (55% strongly) and only 17% oppose (10% strongly). Those who support discrimination may be vocal, but I think their buying power is more than drowned out by those of us who believe everyone should be treated fairly and want to incorporate that into our purchases.

But thirdly, even if good GLBT policies don't help companies attract consumers, I think they're still a total no-brainer. Companies succeed by recruiting and keeping good employees-- and that's what these policies are all about. While I suppose there might be some people who'd refuse on principle to work in a place that treats GLBT employees fairly, it's hard to imagine that would come close to the impact that those policies have on attracting and retaining gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender employees.

And not only do these policies make it easier for companies to hire and keep the best employees-- regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression-- but they also help those employees to be happier and more productive. If you're worrying about how to cover medical bills for your partner and/or kids who don't have health insurance (and can't get access to yours); if you're transgender and trying to go through gender transition but you can't afford hormones and/or surgery because your company's health insurance excludes it and/or you can't get leave for surgery; if you're harassed and discriminated against and denied promotions because of your sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression, and there's no anti-discrimination policy or diversity training at your workplace to help... these things are obviously going to interfere with your ability to do your job well. Companies which understand that supporting employees is in their best interest are more likely to succeed.

So as far as I'm concerned, it's an easy choice for companies to institute these policies. Not only are they the right thing to do for employers who want to treat employees fairly, but they're going to pay off in the bottom line, too. So for those of us looking for places to invest our money, it makes for an easy choice, too-- we can do right by our principles and our pocketbooks.

What do you think?

[Note the edit on the Spotlight on GLBT post to acknowledge the differences between the HRC rankings and The Advocate's list, courtesy of Dana at Mombian.]

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