The Glass Closet

The news has been filled with aspects of diversity lately – the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage, the greater awareness of the transgender community thanks to Caitlin Jenner, and the recent decision of the EEOC that employers who discriminate against LGBT workers are violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But how does all of this relate to the business community (beyond the obvious legal implications), and what can business professionals do to better understand and leverage diversity? May I suggest a great addition to your business reading list – The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business by John Browne – to help answer your questions.

The name “John Browne” may sound familiar to you. He was the successful CEO of BP until he was involuntarily “outed” via a very public scandal. John Browne’s message is clear – people are more productive and effective if they can bring their true self to the work environment, and that can only be done if they are free from prejudice and anxiety.

"I wish I had been brave enough to come out earlier during my tenure as the chief executive of BP. I regret it to this day. I know that if I had done so, I would have made more of an impact for other gay men and women. It is my hope that the stories in this book will give some of them the courage to make an impact of their own." —John Browne

You may be thinking: this sounds like a personal journey and decision (which it is), and encouraging people to be their authentic self at work is great, but what does that have to do with my business? I’m already supportive of diversity in the workplace. Well if you are, that’s great, but it’s not just about diversity – it’s more importantly about inclusion. So what’s the difference?

While each of you may have a slightly different definition of diversity, most of you would all generally agree that diversity consists of the characteristics that make people different from one another, including characteristics a person has little or no control over and characteristics that can be adopted. This goes far beyond the things that many people typically think about when they hear the word diversity – race, religion, gender, sexual orientation – and expands to encompass the numerous other ways in which we’re different – educational level, economic level, veteran status, family status, and on and on… And if asked why diversity is important to businesses, most would quickly reply that diversity in the workplace lends itself to a competitive advantage for the business. True.

Which brings us to inclusion. Inclusion is simply the environment in which diversity thrives. In other words, what good is it to recruit or develop a diverse workforce if your new talent isn’t comfortable in the workplace and leaves? A business should have the goal of fostering an inclusive environment that encourages individuals of different races, ages, gender, ethnicity, religions, sexual orientation, and abilities to reach their full potential. This is the point of The Glass Closet.

So what does an inclusive work environment look like? An inclusive work environment is one in which:
· Employees are appreciated and valued for who they are as individuals (i.e., not negatively judged for being “different”.)
· Employees relate to others in the workplace in a respectful manner both as individuals and as members of their cultural groups.
· Individual employee differences are seen as potential business advantages.
· Those differences are effectively leveraged for the benefit of the organization.

The company results of building a corporate inclusion program include:
· An inclusive culture that can drive business results; a competitive edge in the global economy
· A workforce that looks like the marketplace – it allows penetration into new markets and captures multicultural consumers
· Improved corporate image and ability to connect with community to be a good corporate citizen
· Improved employee morale and retention, increased talent pool, and, ideally, reduced litigation

Great! Sign me up! But how? As in any effective business goal, this takes time and a strategic approach. Some imperatives for making diversity and inclusion work include:
· CEO and executive management commitment
· An actionable strategic plan for integrating diversity and inclusion into every aspect of an organization
· Accountability assigned for achieving diversity goals
· Metrics established to measure results (If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.)

Basically, diversity and Inclusion must be incorporated into every business decision. Diversity and inclusion are not an option in today’s completive business environment, but a business imperative. And they’re not just about compliance. They’re about employees being able to bring their whole selves to work, and being comfortable when they do so. The result will better products, increased customer value, increased profitability, and improved competitiveness. So get started – increase you own understanding and awareness – and read the book.

Lynn M. Lorenz, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Lecturer, Marymount University
School of Business Administration

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