"Out" is in. The Supreme Court's dismissal of a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June and the ongoing strong bipartisan support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) are just two outstanding reasons to celebrate the LGBT community's progress.
The shifts in the political landscape have their roots in a push for LGBT equality in the workplace. Earlier this year the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) published research detailing the benefits of an inclusive work environment. What makes work a place where LGBT talent can thrive?
While many companies excel at publicizing pro-gay policies and positions externally, there's an ongoing need for company leaders to promote and act on them internally. Equally if not more important to the success of LGBT employees is the underlying organizational culture.
Allies -- people who support or work as LGBT advocates -- play a decisive role in creating an inclusive community where individuals are comfortable being themselves.
Although the ally phenomenon is widespread and growing -- 70 percent of men and 83 percent of women consider themselves allies -- far fewer people qualify as "active allies," willing to openly support LGBT colleagues.
And despite advances in workplace acceptance and acknowledgement of the significant role that LGBT people play in opening new markets and expanding existing market share, according to CTI research, 41 percent of LGBT workers remain closeted at the office.
CTI data find that LGB employees are 124-percent more likely (47 percent vs. 21 percent) to be out at companies where straight senior executives express their support publicly. In fact, 24 percent of LGBT workers surveyed attribute their decision to come out professionally to a strong network of allies. Openly gay senior executives make a difference as well. LGBT employees are 85-percent more likely to be out at companies where senior executives are out (24 percent vs. 13 percent). One gay market manager at Banana Republic was especially impressed that Jack Calhoun, global president of the Banana Republic brand, and Roy Hunt, SVP of stores, are both openly gay. "My company has always supported me with the policies they've had in place and the social networking component, but it really resonated with me when I saw myself in our top leaders," he says.
When LGBT employees feel accepted and included, employers benefit too. New CTI research shows that a diverse workforce can be a potent source of innovation, since diverse individuals are better attuned to the unmet needs of key end users like themselves. Indeed, their insight is critical to identifying and addressing new market opportunities. When teams have even just one member who represents the team's target end user, the entire team is far more likely to understand that target, increasing their likelihood of innovating effectively -- if there are allies on the team who make that representative feel secure about raising ideas and sharing insights.
The ultimate dividend: The combination of a diverse workforce and leaders who get that diversity makes companies measurably more innovative.
As a consumer segment, LGBT people punch far above their weight. In 2012 LGBT adults in the U.S. represented $790 billion in total buying power, making them a market force that companies can't afford to overlook. Inclusive companies find that publicizing their support of LGBT equality boosts their standing among consumers across the board: 71 percent of LGBT adults said they are likely to remain loyal to a brand that they believe to be very friendly to the LGBT community even when less-friendly companies may offer lower prices or be more convenient. Furthermore, three quarters of heterosexuals and 87 percent of LGBT people said that they would consider choosing a brand known to provide equal workplace benefits.
It is a bottom-line imperative that organizations work to create a workplace where LGBT workers feel accepted, valued and comfortable being who they are. We can all help by becoming active allies, not just in October but every day of the year.
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