Jan Siegmund was on an interview with a company’s CEO when he was asked a question about his wife. That was a bit of a problem, because Siegmund is a gay man. That unfortunate event is how Siegmund, the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of ADP, came out of the closet, but since then he’s tried to make his sexuality more of an asset than a liability. Siegmund was one of the panelists for a discussion on the business case for LGBT inclusion at The Economist’s Pride and Prejudice event in New York on Thursday.
Jim Fitterling, President and COO of The Dow Chemical Company, came out last year in a live webcast to his company’s over 50,000 employees on National Coming Out Day in the United States. He said that one of the inspirations for doing so was that he wanted to be in control of making himself more open to employees. Now he drives LGBT inclusion throughout the company and mentors fellow LGBT employees, but not just to be a champion of inclusion, but of good business. Fitterling mentioned that studies have shown that workers are more productive when “they can bring their whole self to work,” and that teams with more diverse membership can perform better than non-diverse teams. “We see that and I feel that in my work,” citing the weight off his shoulders when he decided to come out to his co-workers.
Both Siegmund and Fitterling spoke to role of leadership in helping to drive inclusion, which in turn drives business. “There’s a whole emphasis towards conscious capitalism, and authentic leadership is part of that,” Fitterling said, noting that there is an overarching trend in the business industry to look beyond only profits. And doing so will help make a company attractive to the most available talent. Fitterling cited a statistic that 75% of millennials believe in same sex marriage, and 80% of them will put value on companies that have diverse values. “Without the best and the brightest, you don’t have the most innovative minds in the room,” Fitterling said. And as we all know, innovation drives business. “We see it come through in the bottom line,” he said.
Siegmund believes that being an openly gay leader is important because he can be authentic to the teams he leads. And he heopes it helps him be more intuitive in political situations and more open minded. But even if there is support for diversity and inclusion at the top of the company, there are still many challenges to overcome, especially for very large corporations. “Pockets of homophobia” can exist, he said, and it can be difficult to for diversity and inclusion to permeate through an entire company. “Unless a broad swath of the enterprise are setting examples everyday, it becomes harder,” he said.
This speaks to the importance of allies, non-LGBT employees to stand up and support their LGBT co-workers and inclusion in the workplace. Siegmund said that about half of ADP’s LGBT employee rights group is compromised of allies. It sends a signal, he said, that allies should “not be underestimated”.
Fitterling echoed the importance of allies. Dow’s LGBT group is the largest of the company’s seven groups, and that around half of the company’s leaders have become allies. He hopes that number eventually reaches 100%.
“The way we treat each other and the way we treat customers is highly linked,” Fitterling said. If that’s the case, the companies that do right by their employees will do right by their customers. And that’s the name of the game.