02/11/2014 11:25 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Why Global Gay Rights Is NOT a NIMBY Issue

It's tempting for many Westerners to take a "Not In My Backyard" approach to articles like the recent New York Times front-page story, "Wielding Whip and a Hard New Law, Nigeria Tries to 'Sanitize' Itself of Gays." In fact, for many employees of multinational corporations (MNCs), global gay rights are not a NIMBY issue. It's literally taking place in their backyard.

As MNCs expand their operations around the world, they are on the front lines of a confrontation between local cultures and global human rights. Poised to leapfrog South Africa to become Africa's largest economy, Nigeria is especially newsworthy, but the issue in The New York Times story isn't confined to Nigeria. Forty percent of UN members criminalize same-sex sexual acts and 168 countries, including the U.S., do not allow their citizens to legally bring a same-sex partner into the country.

The immediate effect is that the opportunities for career growth offered by experience in these global markets are not available for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees of MNCs.

But there's more at stake.

Recent work by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), a New York-based think tank which I founded 10 years ago, shows that innovation and new market growth are dependent upon the ability of companies to lift up the power of difference and fully realize human potential. At the same time, employers are increasingly realizing that the retention and acceleration of diverse talent is no longer a "nice to have" patina but a "must have" policy that adds a measurable boost to the bottom line.

Since 2004, CTI has worked to transform how organizations conceive of and manage high-echelon talent worldwide. The think tank has developed research that explores the challenges and opportunities faced by top talent across the divides of gender, generation, geography and culture.

Time and again, we've seen how change in countries whose culture is resistant to the development of diverse talent can be driven instead by employers, especially those with a global outlook and a need for multicultural talent. Together with its flagship project -- the Task Force for Talent Innovation, comprised of more than 80 global companies -- CTI has seeded and developed hundreds of best practices that address some of the most intractable problems in the human resources space: levering qualified women and people of color into top leadership roles, tapping into the strengths of a multi-generational workforce and lifting up the "Power of Out" among LGBT workers.

As we celebrate our first 10 years and look forward to the next decade, we're announcing a new focus: Beginning this year, CTI will connect its global research inquiries to urgent human rights issues, to ensure the wellbeing and flourishing of workers everywhere. This focus on human rights and human flourishing will bring a rich and expanded agenda to talent management practices around the world.

The New York Times' story shows how much our work is needed. Yet even as some governments are moving in the wrong direction on human rights issues, an increasing number of MNCs are stepping up to encourage and support their LGBT employees. Some 41 percent of US-Canadian, 63 percent of European and 60 percent of Asian-Pacific firms now offer equal partner benefits when an employee in a same-sex relationship is posted abroad. Additionally, 85 percent of the 734 employers included in the Human Rights Campaign's 2014 Corporate Equality Index apply non-discrimination policies across all global operations.

The impact of such policies is multi-faceted: LGBT protections boost morale for all workers, while also providing a highly visible show of support for human rights by companies with tremendous clout.

At CTI, we, too, will provide our support to these companies through our ongoing and future research projects. By doing so, we hope to change not just the conversation around talent management but the cultures so that diverse talent can thrive and achieve its full potential. Because the full realization of brain power is at the heart of both human flourishing and competitive success.