Pride and Prejudice: The State of the LGBTQ Nation at Outlaws 2019

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NEW YORK — The state of the LGBTQ nation — which many characterize as one of pride and prejudice — was discussed in depth at the Legal Executive Institute’s Outlaws 2019 forum last week.

During the one-day conference, panelists from Accenture, Lambda Legal, JP Morgan, the Human Rights Watch, Symantec, Well Fargo among others celebrated with pride by noting the economic power of the LGBTQ community and expansion of corporate advocacy.

The market size of the community is currently valued at $5 trillion globally and is continuing to expand. In addition, corporate leadership has increased its support for the LGBTQ community since 2013, even when state governments are passing legislation that would allow discrimination of LGBTQ people. For example, the CEO of Salesforce threatened to scale back operations in Indiana in 2015 when the governor signed legislation that allowed businesses in the state to discriminate against LGBTQ people; and JP Morgan joined a boycott of the hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei after the country introduced laws to punish by death LGBTQ sexual activity earlier this year.

The prejudice part of the conversation was more somber. The recent moves to roll back protections of the transgender community by the US government were mentioned several times by panelist. In addition, anti-LGBTQ records of judicial nominees that had been nominated to lifetime appointments on federal courts was also cited as a sobering current reality.

Companies Filling the Gap

Over the past few years, there has been a growing trend that sees many companies using their economic influence to advocate for the LGBTQ community. There was a view among the panelists that a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index was now table stakes. The “moralization of the business community,” as one panelist says, has become a driver of progress, a fact that was reiterated by leaders from Symantec and Accenture.

During the one-day conference, panelists celebrated the economic power of the LGBTQ community and expansion of corporate advocacy

Another panelist gave a more pragmatic view, adding that “progress is location specific.” He elaborated that a “gay friendly” business in New York City is very different than one in Alabama.

Yet, progress for diverse talent, especially in the executive ranks, has been stubbornly slow. “The external progress for company brands has overshadowed the internal failures in the advancement of diverse talent to leadership,” explains one partner from a professional services firm.

So, what does work to advance diverse talent? One technology company panelist advocated for asking the CFO why a company’s diversity and inclusion data is not reviewed as rigorously as other financial metrics. It is no secret that that teams populated with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences produce better outcomes and higher profits, according this Boston Consulting Group study from 2017 as well as several studies dating back to the 1990s prove.

Another panelist, a former vice-chair from an investment bank, suggests that employees reach out to C-level members of their firm to share their views on what is important, given that most leaders really care about their employees’ workplace experience. Another panelist, the global head of diversity at her company, said she had created business unit “inclusion change teams” with the responsibility to reach out to employees through listening sessions and focus groups in order to learn about the diversity and inclusion issues employees care about.

Another panelist explains that he was impressed by an investment bank’s approach that had the bank bringing in customers to speak to its private bankers. Referring to the company as the “gayest investment bank,” he participated in an internal speaker series where he as an LGBTQ customer was brought in to share his family’s requirements for estate planning and how it differed from those needs of families of heterosexual couples.

The Necessity of Allies

Finally, the most consistent theme throughout the Outlaws event was the part that allies play in support of the LGBTQ community, whether it be on the institutional or the individual levels. While most of the conversation focused on the role of organizations, the personal support and advocacy aspects were noted as equally worthwhile, particularly when it comes LGBTQ community members who are not out and the most vulnerable LGBTQ individuals, such as LGBTQ homeless youth and the elderly in unstable housing situations.

Indeed, only 50% of LGBTQ employees are out in the workplace, which means that half of those who identify as LGBTQ don’t feel safe enough to bring their full selves to work. Many times, this reluctance is based on fears of rejection or trauma that they have experienced previously in their professional or personal lives. In the instances of family rejection, LGBTQ individuals have a need to formulate personal relationships that offer complete acceptance and can essentially replace their lost family connections.

For the most vulnerable, these support structures often don’t exist, and Outlaws panelists highlighted the need for allies to amplify their voices, volunteer with organizations that provide social services to this community and bring attention to their needs on social media and in conversations with work colleagues.

As the Outlaws 2019 forum underscored, the state of the LGBTQ nation has a lot to take pride in and a lot of work to do to overcome continued prejudice.