Tolerance Can Help the Bottom Line

Businessweek has an article on gays in the workplace. Significant progress has been made, but there is still a ways to go at some companies.

The new attitude of GLBT acceptance in the business world stems from the same cultural forces that, in recent months, have led to openly gay clergy, the television hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the Supreme Court's landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision banning anti-sodomy laws, and the prospect of gay marriage in Massachusetts. Change is coming quite rapidly to corporations as well. Of the nation's top 500 companies, 95% now offer policies that preclude discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 70% offer domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. In 2000, the numbers stood at 51% and 25%, respectively. "To be competitive, we need to be able to get the best from people when they're at work, and to do that they need to bring their whole self to the table," says Marge Connelly, director of operations at credit-card issuer Capital One Financial Corp. (COF ). She should know — she's a lesbian. "Being out is imperative for me to be a good leader," Connelly says. "You've got to let people know you. People have to trust you."

Still, it comes as no surprise that, as is the case with society at large, gays still face plenty of discrimination in their jobs. In a study released on Oct. 1 by researcher Harris Interactive Inc. (HPOL ) and marketer Witeck Combs Communications Inc., 41% of gay employees said they had been harassed, pressured to quit, or denied a promotion because of sexual orientation. Homosexuality is still legitimate legal grounds for firing an employee in 36 states. "For a lot of people, the fear is very real and justified that if you are openly gay in the workplace, it will jeopardize your earning potential," says Walter B. Schubert Jr., the first openly gay member of the New York Stock Exchange.

Growing up in Kentucky, I was heavily influenced by the redneck view that something was wrong with gays and they should be punished. Over the years that has changed. Now I'm surprised that anyone would discriminate on something so meaningless. And anyway, gay-friendly policies are good for the bottom line.

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