Discrimination bad for business (Editor's Notes)

Are employers a step ahead when it comes to inclusivity?
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/17/2015

If we can’t count on people to do the right thing, at least we can trust corporations.


I’ll give you a moment to digest that sentence.


When it comes to the rights of the LGBT community, it’s unfortunately true. Earlier this month, Indiana was pummeled over a law its Republican governor signed that was interpreted to mean businesses could refuse service to homosexual and transgendered people on religious grounds.


The harsh glare led to changes to the passed bill — changes that made it clear businesses could not refuse service to gays and lesbians.


And before we get all high and mighty on this side of the border about how much better we are when it comes to equality and human rights, consider this: I’m bracing myself for hate emails — I know they’re coming. Every time I write about LGBT issues, or anytime we cover the topic in the pages of Canadian HR Reporter, there is invariably a negative response.


Voicemails, emails, online comments — people are not shy when it comes to anti-gay opinions, though they usually hide behind the cowardly cloak of anonymity. Cleverly, they often call me gay, which I don’t accept as a slur — and which would come as a surprise to my wife.


In the Dec. 1 issue, we put a story about Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, on the cover. Titled “Out and proud at work,” we looked at the issue of leaders coming out of the closet and how it paves the way for others to do so. Michael Bach, founder and CEO of the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion, called Cook’s decision “trailblazing.”


A couple of weeks later, a yellow envelope landed on my desk. Inside was a copy of that issue with the following words scrawled over the cover story in blue highlighter: “Not Newsworthy. Keep your paper.” On page 18, the anonymous complainer scratched out the words “Courageous act” and wrote: “Topic you media blow up. Move on. I speak for many.”


But let’s get back to why — and how — corporations are doing the right thing. Discrimination is bad for business. What plays well to a political base doesn’t necessarily sit well with shareholders. And looking through a less cynical lens, perhaps we can say employers are a step ahead of the general population in doing the right thing when it comes to discrimination.


A couple of examples:


Salesforce:  Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, went on CNN and told a remarkable story. Some of his employees in Indiana have asked for transfers out of the state. Not only has he granted the request, but the company is picking up the tab for relocation.

“I just got an email on the way to the studio from another employee who said, ‘Look, I don’t feel comfortable living in this state anymore. You have to move me out,’” he told CNN. “And I gave him a $50,000 relocation package and said, ‘Great. You’re clear to go.’”


Walmart: Indiana isn’t the only state mulling such a law. In Arkansas, lawmakers have passed a bill — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — critics charge would allow the same denial of service to the LGBT community.

Walmart, which is headquarted in Arkansas, made a “swift demand” for the state’s governor to veto the bill, according to Reuters. The company issued a statement that said the bill threatened to undermine the “spirit of inclusion” in the state and “does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.”


The state quickly responded, with the Arkansas governor sending the bill back for revisions. 


“Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve,” said Walmart CEO Doug McMillion. 


I’ll paraphrase Daily Show host Jon Stewart here but when Walmart is ahead of you, you know you’re on the wrong side of history.


More reaction

But it’s not just Salesforce and Walmart. The response has been swift from many corporations including Apple, Cummins, Eli Lilly and Angie’s List.


Some local governments have banned official travel to Indiana in response to the bill, including the state of New York. Ed Murray, the openly gay mayor of Seattle, banned employees from travelling to the state on official business.


“None of our taxpayer dollars should go towards supporting this discriminatory law,” he said.


Even the National Basketball Association (NBA) waded into the fray, saying all fans, players and employees will feel welcome at all events.


“The game of basketball is grounded in long-established principles of inclusion and mutual respect,” it said in a joint statement with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).


The outcry is refreshing. It’s nice to think that, perhaps, we’ve reached a tipping point on equality. But let’s not forget that these bills in Indiana and Arkansas were passed by lawmakers — if not for the pressure from business leaders, and the media, they would have stood as law.


One day, we’ll get past this. Right?

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