The title to this blog came to me as an honest, nonjudgmental question. My colleague Brittany had referred me to a friend of hers who was conducting research for an MBA project on LGBTQ inclusion in start-ups. The discussion was eye-opening for me.
I consider myself an advocate for the LGBTQ community. My wife and I have been committed to supporting organizations that champion LGBTQ causes. We’re raising our kids to be accepting of people from all backgrounds. We’re fortunate to have a diverse group of friends who have made our lives richer in every way. Those who know me are familiar with these things.
And therein lies the problem. What about all the people who don’t know me or you or your intentions?
One of the principal reasons I had started my own business was a desire to create an office where talented people could come to do their best work. Part of this goal involved stripping away the structures and processes that hindered performance. I had also resolved to encourage open communication, recognize people for their contributions, and ensure that all viewpoints are valued. Although the company is still relatively young, I’m proud that we’ve been able to assemble colleagues who share those same values. We’re a pretty close-knit crew, and we have a damn good time together.
But my discussion about LGBTQ issues demonstrated to me that I shouldn’t break my arm patting myself on the back. For while our collective actions and intent at the company have been a move in the right direction, they clearly aren’t enough.
Imagine the uncertainty LGBTQ candidates feel when going on a job interview. An initial discussion with a prospective employer can be a search for clues as to whether inclusion is valued—and whether an honest answer could mean an abrupt end to the conversation. As a straight white man, I have to recognize there’s not much about me that would immediately or visibly convey to candidates that I value inclusion and am accepting of individuals from all walks of life. That’s just the truth.
It’s been an oversight on my part to think that my private stances or actions are somehow equivalent to a strong public statement on inclusion. And as the regular stream of new stories about discrimination against the LGBTQ community by private citizens and businesses and in the form of legislation enacted at different levels of government reminds me, a clear statement of intention is critical now more than ever.
I have also realized, somewhat belatedly, that owning a business brings with it responsibilities that go far beyond tax filings, corporate regulations, and the like. In many cases, large companies have implemented progressive policies that have outpaced government regulations. Since our company has grown incrementally over the past few years, I was slow to recognize these responsibilities. My experience should serve as a heads-up to others thinking about starting their own company.
So I’d like to state unequivocally that Leff Communications is an equal opportunity employer committed to bringing together the best people to serve our clients, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. A similar statement of inclusion is now on our website for any prospective candidates to find.
I would also urge every business owner to make their commitment known in a similarly public way. Not because it’s good business. Not because a diverse workforce has been proved to be more productive. And not because it’s the right thing to do.
All those things are true, but they’re not enough. Business owners should make such a public statement to reinforce their commitment to human rights, to civil rights, and to the better world we can create when we allow goodness and acceptance to be not exceptional but the baseline.