ENDA Vote Is Just the Beginning

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act now heads to the full Senate for consideration. In 29 states workers are not protected from being fired because of their sexual orientation, and in 34 states workers can be fired for being transgender.
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July 10 may not have quite the resonance of July 4, but it's a significant date in the ongoing fight for liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness. That's because it's the date that the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions adopted the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), or S. 815, by a bipartisan vote of 15-7. ENDA would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in most American workplaces.

"Advocates have been working for nearly 40 years to pass these basic protections to ensure that all American workers, who stand side-by-side in the workplace and contribute with equal measure in their jobs, will stand on the same equal footing under the law," said Ian Thompson, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative representative. "In 2013, it is completely unacceptable to force individuals to hide who they are out of fear of losing their livelihood."

It's more than unacceptable. It's bad for business. In a recent blog post on The Huffington Post, I wrote about research from the Center for Talent Innovation, a New York-based think tank where I serve as president, that details the benefits of an inclusive work environment:

Corporations and individuals are increasingly recognizing that LGBT status can be a career asset. ...

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees, feeling comfortable about being out at work opens up access to business opportunities ... as well as platforms on which to exercise leadership. In addition, CTI survey results found that 15 percent of men and 10 percent of women believe they've expanded their networks thanks to their LGBT status. By joining internal employee resource groups or participating in LGBT fundraisers or philanthropic endeavors, they were able to mingle with senior leaders they might otherwise never have met and leverage those relationships.

Most important, out employees are better able to gain the attention and advocacy of their superiors. Sponsorship, as we've explained in our research, lends enormous traction to any ambitious person's career. Among LGBT individuals, those without powerful backers, whether heterosexual or gay themselves, are far more likely to feel stalled in their careers (37 percent versus 29 percent), unrecognized for their talents (28 percent versus 17 percent), and lacking in career development opportunities (22 percent versus 14 percent). By contrast, those with sponsors are much more likely to report that they are being promoted quickly (59 percent versus 45 percent), are satisfied with their rate of promotion (84 percent versus 77 percent), and are moving up through the hierarchy of their industries (85 percent versus 77 percent).

LGBT employees aren't the only beneficiaries of an inclusive workplace; employers benefit, too. In 2012, LGBT adults in the U.S. represented $790 billion in total buying power, making them a market force companies can't afford to overlook. Inclusive companies find that publicizing their support of LGBT equality boosts their standing among consumers across the board: 71 percent of LGBT adults said they are likely to remain loyal to a brand they believe to be very friendly to the LGBT community even when less friendly companies may offer lower prices or be more convenient. Further, three-quarters of heterosexuals and 87 percent of LGBTs said they would consider choosing a brand known to provide equal workplace benefits.

Yet despite advances in workplace acceptance, 41 percent of LGBT workers remain closeted at the office.

And even though LGBT employees, both in and out of the closet, are every bit as ambitious and motivated to succeed as their heterosexual peers, because closeted LBGT employees feel so much more dissatisfied with their career paths, they are much more likely to have one foot out the door. CTI research found that those who are unhappy with their rate of promotion or advancement are at least three times more likely than those who are satisfied to plan to leave their company within the next year. LGBTs who feel isolated at work -- in other words, closeted LGBT employees burdened with the daily stress of keeping their private life secret from their colleagues -- are 73 percent more likely than their out peers to say they intend to jump ship within the next three years.

What makes work a place where LGBT talent can thrive? Allies -- people who support or work as LGBT advocates -- play a decisive role in creating an open community where individuals are comfortable being themselves. In fact, 24 percent of LGBT workers surveyed attribute their decision to come out professionally to a strong network of allies. However, although the ally phenomenon is widespread and growing: 70 percent of men and 83 percent of women consider themselves allies - far fewer people are willing to openly support LGBT colleagues in the workplace.

Increasing those percentages is directly tied to the growth of the out LGBT population and the war for talent. As more people come out, more of the heterosexuals who know them wish to lend their support. One of the driving forces for allies voicing their support is the realization that LGBT high-performers simply won't stay with a company that doesn't make them feel welcome.

Gary Gates studies LGBT legal issues at UCLA. "There's no question that that person will look at whether the company is going to be supportive of them both through their benefits and through the corporate culture," he said in an interview on American Public Media's Marketplace.

ENDA now heads to the full Senate for consideration. In 29 states workers are not protected from being fired because of their sexual orientation, and in 34 states workers can be fired for being transgender.

Let's continue the fight for liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness for all by showing our support for ENDA!

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