The Workplace as a Sanctuary?

On this darkest day of the year, it’s hard not to think about the growing tidal wave of fear and uncertainty threatening to crash down upon marginalized communities like immigrants, people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, and those living at the intersections. In fact, for LGBTQ people, 82 percent believe that “day-to-day life is likely to get worse” in the United States as a result of the Presidential elections. Tragically, these emotions are not unfounded as the President-Elect empowers public figures who have spent the entirety of their careers working to further marginalize and dehumanize LGBTQ people.  

While some of my own LGBTQ friends have jokingly considered fleeing the country, the vast majority do not even have this luxury given that many struggle with disproportionately high levels of poverty, and lack adequate resources to finance the costly journey to emigrate. Further exacerbating these poverty rates is the lack of a federal law, which leaves 52% of the LGBTQ population living in a state where employers have the freedom to simply fire on the basis of who a person is, or who they happen to love.

The silver lining to these dark realities starts with North Carolina. Ex-Governor Pat McCory championed and enacted HB2, a law that striped LGBTQ people of basic human rights (including workplace protections), and cruelly targeted transgender people by prohibiting their use of a public bathroom that aligns with who they are. The result of this disastrous political move cost the state $400 million in lost business, a federal lawsuit, a failed law that Governor-Elect Roy Cooper vows to repeal, and ultimately McCory’s job.

Pat McCory and his team of strategists underestimated the power of the business community, and its role in providing workplace sanctuaries where diverse talent, customers, and suppliers are protected from discrimination, even in the most hostile environments. These businesses offer global and comprehensive non-discrimination policies ensuring that workers who happen to live in states like North Carolina, Texas, and Florida are afforded the same protections as those living in progressive states like New York, California, and Oregon.

Business leaders have a unique opportunity to seize. They have the ability to create workplace sanctuaries that guarantee attracting the best and brightest talent, acquiring new customers, and hiring diverse suppliers. All of which, gives a business the competitive edge necessary to advance in today’s global economy. To seize this unique opportunity, here are five ideas employers can adopt, which are likely to create workplace sanctuaries for marginalized communities, and help businesses increase their bottom line: 

1.   Capitalize on the Brain Drain. Millennials, sometimes described as the “gayest generation,” are twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ, overwhelmingly support comprehensive LGBTQ workplace protections, and are reluctant to accept jobs with employers lacking these protections. If you operate your business in a locality or state that does not prohibit LGBTQ workplace discrimination, even though your company does, you can prevent millennial brain drain, and attract top talent to your business. Start by reaching out to LGBTQ friendly talent pipelines, and promote your non-discrimination policies, LGBTQ affinity groups, LGBTQ professional development programs, or other opportunities designed specifically for LGBTQ workers.

2.   Cultivate Allies Within. The C-Suite has the power to both communicate the importance of workplace allies, and has the platform to role model what it looks like to be an ally. For those not familiar, a workplace ally is a person from one social identity group who stands up in support of a member from another group. An ally is typically a member of a dominant group standing beside members of a group experiencing discrimination. We all need allies, and we certainly can serve as allies depending on any given situation. Prioritizing programs that raise awareness around how to be an ally is a good place to start to building a workplace sanctuary.

3.   Select Diverse Suppliers. Did you know that there are 1.4 million businesses in the United States owned by LGBTQ people? Did you know that of these businesses, 1,000 are recognized as LGBT Certified Business Enterprises from the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce? Why might these facts be important? Because hiring diversity suppliers enables businesses to leverage new perspectives, cultivate innovation, and have a better opportunity to tap into the $3.7 trillion of LGBTQ global spending power. It also creates economic empowerment opportunities for local LGBTQ suppliers living in communities that lack employment protections.

4.   Leverage Affinity Groups. One of the most powerful tools that you have, or have the ability to create, are workplace affinity groups. These groups have the power to offer strategic guidance to employers on everything from creating and identifying talent pipelines to informing strategies to access new markets. For LGBTQ employees, affinity groups create a much needed space to connect with others across the workplace. Affinity groups sometimes meet in physical locations, and for larger global corporations, are often found living in virtual space. These groups are further reinforced by the participation of workplace allies (as described in #1 above).

5.   Support Local Charities. Establishing charitable giving programs for local community organizations enables employers to expand the workplace sanctuary ecosystem. Working with your LGBTQ affinity group, consider targeting charitable donations to organizations working on behalf of your local community to address poverty, violence, and discrimination that marginalized communities endure. Moving money to support local charities empowers them to double-down on their lifesaving services. A year-end-charity drive that promotes some of these effective organizations, or hosting an annual award ceremony celebrating these organizations amplifies your company’s commitment to building a workplace sanctuary.

While it’s clear our collective work over the coming years will be challenging, we business owners have an extraordinary amount of power to influence elected officials, and role-model for our peers how to embrace and expand upon our commitment to workplace equity and inclusion principles. Implementing any of the ideas shared above will establish an effective workplace sanctuary protecting some of the most marginalized people within your business ecosystem. These sanctuaries are especially needed in areas of the country that fail to offer life-saving workplace, housing, credit, and public accommodations protections for those living at the margins. Together we have the power to create workplace sanctuaries that celebrate, include, and leverage our differences to offer meaningful products and solutions the global economy demands, and for which we will be generously rewarded.

To stay in touch about ways we can work together to create workplace sanctuaries, subscribe to the RPC newsletter. As a gift for signing up today, you’ll receive a FREE guide I share with my clients to help transform themselves and their workplaces. 

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Rhodes Perry

Rhodes Perry is a nationally recognized expert on LGBTQ and social justice public policy matters, with two decades of leadership experience innovating strategy management, policy and program solutions for corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. At his core, Rhodes is an entrepreneur, where he most recently established Rhodes Perry Consulting, LLC, a national diversity and inclusion consulting firm that uses an intersectional approach to collaborate with leaders on creating solutions in the practice areas of strategy management, issue advocacy, and stakeholder engagement. Previously, Rhodes founded the Office of LGBTQ Policy & Practice at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, and prior to this assignment he served as the founding Director of Policy at PFLAG National where he led the policy strategy and advocacy efforts for the organization’s 350 chapters. He cut his teeth serving as a Program Examiner at the White House Office of Management & Budget, where he improved upon federal benefit programs designed to provide assistance to low-income communities. Rhodes earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Gender Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and obtained a Master of Public Administration from New York University.