Why LGBT Inclusion Makes Business Sense

In the weeks since I returned from the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos, I've been reflecting on an important issue -- the 'business imperative' for LGBT inclusion.
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In the weeks since I returned from the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos, I've been reflecting on an important issue -- the 'business imperative' for LGBT inclusion. I believe this is critical to the business world which is supported by the fact that it was on the official WEF agenda this year for the first time.

This was underlined at a breakfast event hosted by Microsoft, where a report titled Out In The World was unveiled. The report examines the status and evolution of LGBT rights in the workplace and the findings will make interesting reading for any business -- particularly large multi-national companies.

The authors, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Kenji Yoshino uncovered a strong case for inclusion of LGBT individuals for companies on business grounds and companies that fail to support the inclusion of LGBT individuals could see this directly impact recruitment and retention.

While it would be a fair assumption that LGBT individuals would check the inclusion and diversity credentials of a new employer, the research shows that 72 percent of allies are more likely to accept a job at a company that supports LGBT rights. This massively increases the impact that inclusion -- or lack of it -- can have for a business when recruiting and retaining the best people. For many LGBT employees surveyed, loyalty to their employer was directly impacted if they had to hide their LGBT identity.

But it is not just employees that can be impacted. Consumer companies failing to support LGBT inclusion could jeopardize their sales, with the global LGBT consumer market estimated at $3.7 trillion. This number is even higher if you factor in the spending power of allies. With 71 percent of LGBT respondents and 82 percent of allies more likely to purchase from a company that supports LGBT equality, can business really afford to not support inclusion and LGBT equality?
Another finding that is pertinent to business leaders in Davos with a global workforce is the ability to deploy and move employees around the organisation. Global companies need to be able to move their high-performers, including the LGBT talent, safely between international locations. This cannot be successful without global policies that provide LGBT protection. This was discussed in part during a live panel at Davos.

A fourth reason why it makes business sense to support LGBT inclusion relates to innovation. Business innovation requires a diverse workforce to bring a range of insights. The research suggests a direct correlation between 'cultures that are LGBT supportive' and those that 'have the elements essential to sparking creativity and sustaining innovation.'

The research unsurprisingly shows that LGBT employees are more likely to speak up and offer views and inputs -- and believe they are heard -- in companies that support LGBT inclusion. Nearly half of LGBT employees at unsupportive companies don't feel free to express their views. How much innovation is being lost at these companies as a result?

Other reports have come to similar conclusions. Open For Business, a collation of global companies including Accenture, published a report, Open For Business: the Economic and Business Case for LGB&T Inclusion, which shows that successful businesses thrive in open, diverse and inclusive societies.

The good news is that companies are recognizing the positive impact that diversity can have. Human Rights Campaign (HRC) measures the US's largest companies, often with a global footprint, for levels of equality in the workplace, assessing LGBT-inclusive policies, benefits and practices. In 2002, only 13 businesses scored 100 percent; the latest report shows this has increased to 407. In addition, the number of rated businesses with protection for transgender employees shot up, from five percent to 87 percent.

What we can now definitively say is there is a case for LGBT inclusion for companies on business grounds. Let's see how many grasp this opportunity and perhaps steal a lead on their rivals.

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