In one of the most unforgettable tag lines of any ad campaign, the U.S. Army promised recruits it would help them "be all that you can be." Yet by refusing to repeal the 1993 law known as "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT), the U.S. Senate prevented the Army — as well as the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard — from operating at their full potential, from being all that they can be.
New research from the Center for Work-Life Policy quantifies the cost to employers when the workplace environment is unfriendly to gays and lesbians. In terms of ambition, aspiration, and dedication, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals are hugely motivated to excel at their work — 88% are willing to go the extra mile for their company (the same as straight employees), 71% consider themselves ambitious (compared to 73% straight), and 66% are eager to be promoted (compared to 65% straight).
But the picture looks radically different for LGBTs who are not open about their sexual orientation or hide their sexuality from their co-workers and managers. A full 25% say they are not comfortable "being myself" at work. The ramifications when employees feel they must camouflage their true identities — guarding every word and gesture, unable to confide in their teammates or lying out of fear of repercussions to their career, if not their actual job — can be quantified. And they are stunning.
Closeted employees are less likely to deliver the energy, enthusiasm and innovative spirit companies require to be competitive in today's market. Only 21% of closeted LGBTs trust their employer, compared to 47% who are out. Willingness to stick one's neck out, to propose the breakthrough ideas that open new markets and boost the bottom line, is hamstrung: Only 23% of closeted LBGTs claim to have an entrepreneurial spirit, compared to 35% of their out co-workers. More than half (52%) feel stalled in their career, versus 36% who are out, and only 48% are satisfied with their current rate of promotion, versus 64% of out workers. Less than 60% deem themselves "very loyal," compared to 70% of their non-closeted colleagues. The most telling statistic: Those who are not satisfied with their current rate of promotion or advancement are three times more likely than those who are satisfied to say they intend to leave their companies within the next year.
Smart companies recognize that an inclusive workplace is good for business. Deloitte's GLOBE (Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Employees) Business Resource Group, for example, provides a forum for networking, professional development, recruiting and building relationships with local communities. Ernst & Young's Inclusive Leadership Program pairs high-potential performers with executive board members for formal mentoring and career development. It originally targeted women and minorities, but last year the program was expanded to include LGBT partners and principals. Cisco Systems covers the tax on imputed income that LGBT employees pay when they extend their health insurance to cover their partners. Pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim lobbies Congress in support of anti-discrimination acts.
Such policies do more than foster engagement and boost productivity. They are also strong recruitment tools. "In today's marketplace, Gen X and especially Gen Y, irrespective of their sexual orientation, are looking for companies that are progressive," says Nancy DiDia, Chief Diversity Officer of Boehringer Ingelheim. "Whenever we go to career fairs or do recruiting events on college campuses, the two areas we get questioned on are: How socially responsible is your company? What's your position on LGBT policies?"
When it comes to issues of LGBT equality, corporations are far out in front of the Federal government. The government should look to the private sector for best practices on how to include all employees and to make the connection that when employees feel included, better business outcomes result.