Last month, The Economist held its first global Pride & Prejudice summit, examining the current state of LGBT diversity and inclusion in personal, professional and political contexts. The conference encompassed perspectives from three continents, with keynotes delivered in Hong Kong, London, and New York, by high profile figures from the worlds of business, technology and government. Here are the three core ideas which came up again and again at each conference.
- LGBT-friendly businesses are simply more productive
Lee Badgett, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachussetts, revealed to audiences in Hong Kong that there is actually a gay wage gap; on average, gay and bisexual men earn 11 per cent less than straight men globally. This may contribute to the large proportion of LGBT graduates who actually go back into the closet when entering the workplace — as many as 60 per cent, according to Lloyds CEO Inga Beale.
When you compare this to the research which suggests that LGBT-inclusive companies are 30 per cent more productive than those which discriminate against their employees, it seems like simple good business sense to promote more open hiring practices. “If you’re saying to any part of the talent base that they’re not included, you’re limiting yourself,” says Robert Hanson, CEO of John Hardy. “If you’re a senior executive, your role is to create value and deliver economic opportunity.”
- Organisations will be judged and compared on their diversity
One of the main themes to come out of Hong Kong, echoed in London and New York, was the notion of a “race to the top” between companies who are eager to stake a reputation as inclusive employers. Representatives from Avanade and AXA told the London crowd that they intend to become role models in the business world and destination workplaces within the next five years.
And it’s not just about employees; your LGBT customers care too. “It’s just good business to be aware of your customers and cater to their needs,” says Grindr founder Joel Simkhai. “This is not revolutionary.”
Millennial consumers are more discerning about where businesses stand on human rights issues than any previous generation, even if they are not LGBT themselves. And if they feel that a company is standing in the way of progress, either by discriminating against its workforce or supporting anti-LGBT causes, they won’t hesitate to take their money elsewhere.
- Companies have the power to effect change on a wider scale
Badgett highlights that there is a correlation in emerging markets between human rights laws and GDP per capita. It’s possible to argue from both sides which of these factors influences the other; perhaps more affluent, developed communities view LGBT equality as a priority, or maybe it’s that more diverse corporations drive economic growth. Either way, the role of commerce cannot be understated.
As Simkhai points out on stage in Hong Kong, just one year ago, Grindr was banned in China — now Chinese tech giant Zhou Yahui, owns a majority stake in the company, perhaps reflecting a shift in attitudes towards LGBT consumers and services.
In 76 countries across the world, it is still illegal to be gay. That means there are businesses operating in 76 markets where their employees and customers are not safe. Panellists in London discuss the “embassy” model of doing business in these regions, where a company’s employees go about their business within those walls as they would in the US or UK, but this is ultimately an impractical half-measure. What’s really needed is an “advocate” model. “We have a responsibility to look at our own values and live them,” says IBM’s Claudia Brind-Woody.
While a small number of speakers claim that it is unethical to continue trading in a country where LGBT citizens do not have equal rights, the majority believe that it is important to maintain a brand presence in that space, to protect your employees, and to steadily work towards a more tolerant environment.
“It’s simple capitalism,” say Nigerian activist Bisi Alimi. “To make profit, you need people. To get people, you need change.”