On March 3, The Economist hosted Pride and Prejudice, a day-long, three-continent event that centered on advancing LGBT diversity and inclusion and the business opportunities available for those overcoming and standing against discrimination. In New York, two openly gay chief executives took the stage for a discussion on LGBT leadership in business, and how businesses with strong diversity and inclusion can be more successful.
A consistent insight, echoed by many of the day’s speakers, was that businesses that don’t support open LGBT inclusion are hurting themselves by siphoning themselves off from a large segment of available talent. Robert Hanson, CEO of John Hardy, said that not demonstrating an inclusive environment would be a “serious impediment.” He continued: “If you’re saying to any part of the talent base that they’re not included, you’re limiting yourself,” and insisted that it was on older generations to show initiative.
Certain industries struggle with diversity and inclusion more than others; Trevor Burgess, CEO of C1 Bank, said that part of the reason the banking industry isn’t as diverse as it can be is because of the overwhelmingly white, older, male makeup of the banking industry’s leadership. “It’s because we don’t look anything like America,” he said, and noted that there are many women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community who would like to work in the banking industry. Burgess said, “I have fantastic people working in the organization that never would have worked in banking before, if not for the fact that I was authentic and passionate.”
In the cases of Burgess and Hanson, it starts from the top. Burgess was asked whether or not he ever felt a pushback from shareholders, stakeholders or board members on the company’s diversity initiatives—or on Burgess himself being an openly gay man—and he had a succinct but powerful response: “Shareholders don’t care.” While there may be some that indeed do care, Burgess’s point was echoed by Hanson, who said, “If you’re a senior executive, your role is to create value and deliver economic opportunity.” It’s about results.
But merely having a CEO be an open member of the LGBT community won’t automatically make that company more diverse and more successful. Hanson said that diversity and inclusion is part of the higher purpose of business, which is to create positive social change. Leaders—LGBT or not—should engage their employee base by being involved in critical social causes. Based on his own personal experience, Hanson said, “If you lead with values, represent the community, and create an environment based on how you portray yourself as a leader, you’re going to bring forward an interesting talent base and dialogue, creative innovation and value.”
There’s no question that a business disqualifying a segment of potential employees based on any sort of discrimination isn’t just wrong, it’s terrible business. Social change can take a long time, but business can help expedite it. And while it’s not a be-all, end-all, support from the very top of the company can go a long way.