A Call For All Global Companies to Come Out for LGBT Inclusion

Last year was a landmark one for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same sex couples could marry in all 50 states. Anti-gay discrimination against U.S. government employees was declared illegal in July. By October, we had more reasons than ever to celebrate the 10th anniversary of LGBT History Month.

Yet with all of this progress, the fight for LGBT rights is far from over. Serious challenges especially remain for LGBT people in the workplace, where Americans spend on average 90,000 hours of their lives. The reality is that there are still 28 states in the United States without explicit bans on workplace sexual-orientation discrimination.

A look at the global landscape of LGBT rights reveals an even more troubling patchwork of intolerance. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association's May 2015 survey, there are 75 countries where homosexual acts are illegal and eight countries in which these acts are punishable by death.

Multinational corporations, with their global reach and direct impact on the lives of workers, are well-positioned to help move the needle on LGBT rights. Companies that understand the needs of their employees will often put policies in place before governments codify them. Domestic partnerships, for example, were recognized by many companies before state laws caught up. In 1998, AT&T became one of the first U.S. corporations to implement domestic partner benefits for LGBT employees. As the Millennial generation continues to enter and ascend in the workforce, the demand for equality will continue to increase.

While many individual companies have stepped up on LGBT issues, the private sector now has an opportunity to pool our resources and speak with one voice to drive even greater change. Many of the world's top business leaders took a collective leap forward in September at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting. This gathering of world leaders saw the launch of two seminal LGBT rights-related commitments to make the private sector more inclusive.

Helping to lead the charge, The Brunswick Group, AT&T and 13 other global corporations -- including EY, Google, IBM, LinkedIn and MasterCard -- announced the creation of the "Open for Business" (O4B) Coalition. By joining forces on this powerful, multi-partner commitment, the group plans to make the business and economic case for LGBT inclusion around the world.

As part of the effort, the O4B coalition recently released a report that presents the most substantial evidence-based research to date on how businesses benefit from implementing inclusive practices and policies. Key among the findings: Companies with inclusive LGBT policies are more innovative and have higher levels of entrepreneurship. In addition, companies that support inclusion and diversity more successfully attract talent and have high retention rates.

Armed with the report findings, O4B coalition members have committed over the next two years to engage local business leaders around the world in understanding the link between workplace inclusion and business success.

In parts of the world where LGBT employees face the harshest threats, it takes protection in addition to education. That's why AT&T has also partnered with the Human Rights Campaign on their commitment to create the Business Coalition for Global Workplace Fairness, another groundbreaking consortium of LGBT advocates launched at the CGI Annual Meeting. This coalition includes CA Technologies, Google, Procter & Gamble, Symantec Corp. and other multinational companies dedicated to implementing more inclusive policies and practices for their LGBT employees worldwide.

The coalition will regularly convene members to share approaches and challenges to implementing workplace non-discrimination protections. It will also serve as a practical resource for companies and allow businesses in hostile environments to show a united front in support of LGBT workers.

A commitment to diversity and inclusion has long been part of our culture and operations at AT&T. We support laws that prohibit discrimination everywhere we do business. We know that our customers, suppliers and investors are diverse, and we serve them best when we embed a focus on diversity and inclusion in all of our business practices.

Now is the time for the private sector to "come out" and come together to improve conditions for the global LGBT workforce, and we invite other companies to partner with us. There is strength in numbers, and by joining forces, we have an opportunity to educate and set new standards wherever we do business.

To learn more or get involved in the O4B Coalition, e-mail info@open-for-business.org. For more information or to get involved in the Business Coalition for Global Workplace Fairness, email workplace@hrc.org.