06/26/2013 05:31 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

DOMA Dead! Workplace Discrimination Next?

DOMA down! As the mother of a beloved son who is gay, I couldn't have been happier when I heard the news that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The ruling endows all legally married couples with the same fundamental privileges and protections.

Now it's time to extend the same rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the workplace.

Corporations and individuals are increasingly recognizing that LGBT status can be a career asset. Take the example of Susan Wolford, a Los Angeles-based wealth adviser for Morgan Stanley. In 2011, Wolford received an extraordinary referral: The beneficiary of a large estate wanted to meet with her to discuss managing her investments specifically because Wolford was accredited in domestic-partner tax and estate planning -- and openly gay. The potential client made it very clear that "she wants someone who might deal with her and her partner in an all-encompassing way," the referring attorney told Wolford. Wolford's consultancy earns one percent on assets it manages, so the client's decision to go with her group amounted to a substantial sum -- quite a testament to the power of being out in the workplace.

Recent research from the Center for Talent Innovation, a New York-based think tank where I serve as president, details the benefits of an inclusive work environment. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees, feeling comfortable about being out at work opens up access to business opportunities like Wolford's as well as platforms on which to exercise leadership. In addition, CTI survey results found that 15 percent of men and 10 percent of women believe they've expanded their networks thanks to their LGBT status. By joining internal employee resource groups or participating in LGBT fundraisers or philanthropic endeavors, they were able to mingle with senior leaders they might otherwise never have met and leverage those relationships.

Most important, out employees are better able to gain the attention and advocacy of their superiors. Sponsorship, as we've explained in our research, lends enormous traction to any ambitious person's career. Among LGBT individuals, those without powerful backers, whether heterosexual or gay themselves, are far more likely to feel stalled in their careers (37 percent versus 29 percent), unrecognized for their talents (28 percent versus 17 percent), and lacking in career development opportunities (22 percent versus 14 percent). By contrast, those with sponsors are much more likely to report that they are being promoted quickly (59 percent versus 45 percent), are satisfied with their rate of promotion (84 percent versus 77 percent), and are moving up through the hierarchy of their industries (85 percent versus 77 percent).

LGBT employees aren't the only beneficiaries of an inclusive workplace; employers benefit, too. In 2012, LGBT adults in the U.S. represented $790 billion in total buying power, making them a market force 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 they believe to be very friendly to the LGBT community even when less friendly companies may offer lower prices or be more convenient. Further, three-quarters of heterosexuals and 87 percent of LGBTs said they would consider choosing a brand known to provide equal workplace benefits.

Yet despite advances in workplace acceptance, 41 percent of LGBT workers remain closeted at the office.

And even though LGBT employees, both in and out of the closet, are every bit as ambitious and motivated to succeed as their heterosexual peers, because closeted LBGT employees feel so much more dissatisfied with their career paths, they are much more likely to have one foot out the door. CTI research found that those who are unhappy with their rate of promotion or advancement are at least three times more likely than those who are satisfied to plan to leave their company within the next year. LGBTs who feel isolated at work -- in other words, closeted LGBT employees burdened with the daily stress of keeping their private life secret from their colleagues -- are 73 percent more likely than their out peers to say they intend to jump ship within the next three years.

What makes work a place where LGBT talent can thrive? Allies -- people who support or work as LGBT advocates -- play a decisive role in creating an open community where individuals are comfortable being themselves. In fact, 24 percent of LGBT workers surveyed attribute their decision to come out professionally to a strong network of allies. However, although the ally phenomenon is widespread and growing: 70 percent of men and 83 percent of women consider themselves allies - far fewer people are willing to openly support LGBT colleagues in the workplace.

Increasing those percentages is directly tied to the growth of the out LGBT population and the war for talent. As more people come out, more of the heterosexuals who know them wish to lend their support. One of the driving forces for allies voicing their support is the realization that LGBT high-performers simply won't stay with a company that doesn't make them feel welcome.

"If we want to recruit and retain the best talent out there, we have a responsibility to make this a place where everyone feels comfortable," says Eric Jordan, an active ally at Goldman Sachs, whose CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, became Wall Street's highest-ranking ally when he created a video in support of same-sex marriage in early 2012. "Along with being the right thing to do, the business case for diversity is real and we want to be able to attract and keep the best people."

The United States Congress is also moving to endorse the value of "out." This past April, bipartisan coalitions in the House and Senate introduced a new version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate is scheduled to begin discussions on the bill in early July.

Let's help convince them to make the right decision!