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Rick Clemons Headshot

Who's Afraid of a Little Rainbow in Corporate America?

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I'm not convinced it's quite a hot button yet, but the finger's getting pretty darn close to pushing the button marked, "It's time for Corporate America to come out!" Heck, for that matter it's time for the global economy to wake up to the morning coffee that a little rainbow sugar in that $5 cup of Joe sure does make the stress claims go down and the productivity and profitability go up.

Translation, please: Not unlike race issues that have prevented workers from feeling comfortable in corporate towers, it's now time for LGBT individuals, from all walks of life, to feel safe and equal in the workplace.

Granted, gay marriage, adoption rights, equality for transgenders, and bullying in schools are all still in play. However, as a leading economy of the world with Fortune 500 and 1000 companies having deep roots in the American economy, why on Earth are we shooting ourselves in our enterprising feet just because someone loves someone of the same gender and chooses to make a life with them? Honestly it's about as absurd as saying obese people with freckles, red hair, and blue eyes who grew up in Omaha are incapable of being promoted up through the ranks to C-level positions. Of course those obese freckle-faced, red-headed, blue-eye Omahaians don't have to hide anything, other than fact that they're from Omaha, and that's only if they are ashamed of admitting they're from Omaha.

If this is the direction we're going to maintain, we might as well put up signs at the water coolers stating "Straights Only!" Yes, that is how absurd it is to not create welcoming work environments that make LGBT employees feel safe, let alone recognizing their talents and treating them like humans! Of course, that talent may be recognized but not talked about. It's an extended version of the now defunct "Don't ask don't tell." What do you mean you didn't get that email memo? Yes, there's a slimy, rarely talked about, underground gossip that runs rampant in corporate cubicles that Joe's probably gay because he shows up at the holiday party alone every year. That, or he's a sexual pervert who molests young children. Oh wait, that is what some in our "Let-freedom-ring" country assume to be true about gays and lesbians, but that's a different article for a different post.

Truth is, the underbelly of business as usual, cloaked in a designer suit, you can dress fine in Armani, knock the socks off the client with a Broadway-like produced presentation that lands a $1.5m account, and you can even save the day with your wit and charm to lure back that client who's boots were made for walking. It's all good, just don't be telling us where you and your same-sex lover spent the weekend, or go hanging the proverbial married-with-children photos of your modern family in your cubicle. We're just not ready to admit you gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders that have perpetrated our godly-like enterprises. Keep still, head to the grindstone and yes we'll direct deposit your paycheck and give you the perks of benefits, but only because there are laws that state we have to do so, even though it puts one more blemish on our "How-do-you-stack-up-to-walk-through-the-pearly-gates" image.

Now I don't want to sound all bitchy and riled up because honestly, when you're a person who has come out of the closet, you've already filled those buckets of bitchy and riled up a few million times. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I filled those buckets I'd be running my own business. Oh wait, I am, and I'm doing just fine without all the trials and tribulations of keeping my personal life a secret at work.

Instead of whining and complaining, let's chat CEO to CEO. All of us running businesses have to deal with risk, change, revenue enhancement, profitability, margins, taxes, and benefits. Yes, even me, a soloprenuer. I too am confronted with all of the same stuff you are, just on a smaller scale. However, even though I encounter my levels of stress, what I've found is that because I can be authentically who I am, no hiding my personal life at work, I'm happier, more productive, engaged, and ready to be part of the team. Of course that team is me, my daughters, my partner, and the cats -- but I do pay and treat them well. But I digress, let's get back to the benefits for your organization of being more welcoming towards your LGBT team members. If you don't know what a team member is, it's time to shift form calling your employees "employees" and start calling them "team members," for starters.

Now, imagine Linda arriving for work on a Monday morning. She's been holding her own, keeping the sales goals and her sales team in check, but you sense that she's not engaged -- literally and figuratively because she resides in a state where she can't marry her girlfriend, Audrey. I know, TMI for where we are in this dialogue, but just go with it for now. It's obvious that Linda wants to succeed, but at times she's distant, doesn't say much at the office birthday celebrations, and she rarely shows up for the company outings. When she does participate, all her conversations are surface level and stay focused on business. Truth is you'd hate to lose her because she's towed her own weight for the last five years.

Let's fast forward to another Monday, one year from now, and Linda's no longer with you. You see, she showed up to work about 11 months ago, and it happened to slip that her and Audrey spent the weekend at a cute little bed and breakfast in the Poconos. When asked, "Who's Audrey?" Linda quickly replied, "Just a friend!" In that moment she realized she was about to out herself and didn't feel comfortable in the situation. Of course, some wise-ass employee -- remember you don't have "team members" -- pushed Linda by asking, "What kind of friend?" In response, Linda turned heel and retreated to her office, not coming out until the end of the day. The rest of the week Linda stayed to herself, arriving on time and leaving on time, no extra hours put in like she was known to do.

The following week her sales began to falter. When confronted with the obvious, "Why?" she again didn't have much to say. Within two weeks, Linda arrived, smile on her face and you're first assumption was that the old Linda is back. Not exactly. In fact, Linda was far from back and giving notice because she'd found a position with a progressive company that was embracing of their LGBT team members. So, now what do you have to say Mr. CEO?

Linda's departure has left a void. A void that cost you, let's just say for arguments sake, $10,000 to replace and train her replacement. On top of that, for the last four weeks her productivity has gone down leading to another $5,000 in losses, hard and soft. Additionally, because Linda wasn't at peak performance, her team wasn't performing at their best -- so you lost another $10,000 in hard and soft costs. Then, you just got a message from Are You Serious Inc. that they're not happy that Linda has left the company. Unfortunately, Linda was the charm that kept the relationship alive, and they've now pulled their account and are following Linda to her new company, We Love LGBT Team Members Inc. This not so little bump in your revenue and profitability road cost you a $1.5m client. Are you getting the picture? Do I have to wave the bag full of money under your nose before you'll finally wake up and smell the corporate roses of success?

Embracing LGBT employees isn't about sacrificing your values, it's simply about treating people like people, fairly and equitably. Along with that, you avoid risk, face a few challenges that actually make your organization stronger, increase productivity which then leads to higher revenues, and if you're being the CEO you claim to be, means you're increasing your profitability.

How do you like them apples? I guess Apple likes them apples pretty well because they have one of the most robust diversity and inclusion programs on the planet. Them and a few other open-armed organizations that you could take a few lessons from. In fact, here's HRC's Best Places To Work 2013. Wouldn't it be cool to see your name listed for 2014?