LGBT-rights groups and advocates are turning to the private sector to help push equality forward. To get the most bang for their buck, their appealing to those with the most reach and influence—primarily the Fortune 500s.
The hope is that in convincing big business that equality is good for bottom lines, those businesses will in turn help to drive anti-discrimination legislation, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination act, past an oft-times slow moving political revolving door and into reality.
Many businesses have already shown their support, such as Dow Chemical Co., Marriott International, and Proctor & Gamble. With their help and those politicians and activists fighting for the legislation, ENDA made its way through the Senate with the aid of politicians from both major parties. But, as the Washington Times reports, Republicans in the House are more hesitant and represent a taller hurdle to overcome.
House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman said that ENDA would “increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs.”
And it’s not just those in Boehner’s camp making such an argument. Others are saying that their opposition isn’t necessarily a matter of morals, but of implementation and necessity.
Entrepreneur journalist Ray Hennessey wrote an article in the beginning of November called “Why ENDA Is Actually Bad for Business,” in which he writes, “It is simply a question of numbers. According to the Human Rights Campaign, which is backing ENDA, 88 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 already have corporate policies that ban LGBT discrimination at work. That is an overwhelming majority, so big in fact that one has to assume the other 60 companies aren’t too far behind in writing their own policies.”
However, Upstart Business Journal Editor J Jennings Moss points out statistics compiled by the Williams Institute, a UCLA School of Law think tank that focuses on sexual orientation issues, finding that anywhere from 15 to 43 percent of LGBT workers said they had experienced being fired, harassed or passed over for promotions. Another survey by the PEW Foundation put the figure at 21 percent.
Still, Hennessey makes the argument that “Discrimination is not only morally wrong, it also doesn’t make good business sense…simply because of a bias, you are running the risk of not employing the most qualified person for the job. Also, employees who face discrimination at a particular employer can simply take their talents elsewhere.”
So what’s the problem?
Hennessey says that the “Trouble is, laws have a way of adding cost and complexity to businesses…Discrimination is bad policy, bad karma and bad business. But the markets know that already.”
But Big Business isn’t buying it.
“We believe that this strategy of businesses joining together to make the case has been a successful one to date,” said Bryan McCleary, Procter & Gamble’s spokesman, in The Hill.
“Government is finally catching up to where the private sector has been for years,” said Jeff Cook-McCormac, a senior adviser to the gay-rights group, American Unity Fund. “It enables companies to attract the most talented workforce and allows their employees to not have to worry about discrimination.”
And as Moss points out, “ENDA won’t wipe away discrimination. It won’t make those who oppose lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals want to invite them over for dinner. But it will, hopefully, keep everyone a little more honest about the conversation.”
So in spite of those looking out for litigious opportunity seekers, or those who think the world will work itself out one way or another, ENDA would ensure that those companies without specific policies would join the equality bandwagon—and serve as a model for all businesses, big or small, in the future.