The photo arrived via text on Monday night. The sun was setting over the horizon, the ocean in the background was calm, and one of my close friends and colleagues was in a tuxedo, down on one knee, proposing to his partner. The next photo showed their hands with engagement rings. Clearly, he said yes! As this exciting news got shared with the kids, I reflected on how grateful I was that they are growing up at a time, and in a country, where you can marry whomever you love.
While great progress has been made for LGBTQ+ equal treatment and civil rights since I was their age, we still have so far to go. Hate crimes against the gay community are rising, and 2021 was the deadliest year on record for trans and gender non-conforming people. The number of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is also at an all-time high, according to Bloomberg, with over 325 state bills filed.
That legislative trend seems very disconnected with where companies are. If the number of rainbow logos on social media accounts during Pride Month is a metric, companies have dramatically increased their visible support for the LGBTQ+ community over the years. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) publishes an annual corporate equality index and over 800 companies have now earned a top score. Most companies we work with have an employee resource group for LGBTQ+ employees and/or allies. Many have rethought their advertising and marketing to include gay couples. Corporate pressure has helped block or overturn a number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills.
However, there are a surprising number of companies who are considered strong supporters of their LGBTQ+ employees who also provide substantial sums to anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns. They include big household brands like AT&T, Amazon, Toyota and State Farm. One factor driving the disconnect is that the HRC score doesn’t look at corporate contributions - something the group is beginning to rethink.
That is not dissimilar to sustainability, where companies embrace strong sustainability strategies internally and set ambitious climate goals. But then they lobby and fund politicians that are blocking the very things necessary to achieve those goals. The one that blew my mind recently was a flurry of legislation to block or gut net metering so that households would not be able to sell energy they create from their solar arrays back to the energy company.
Employees are taking notice of these disconnects, speaking up, and at times walking out. When Disney initially stayed silent on the Florida legislation prohibiting conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity in certain grades, employee pressure was cited as to why they finally took a stand. CEO Bob Chapek apologized to employees for not speaking out sooner and embarked on a “listening tour”. Consumers are holding brands accountable as well. When Brunei strengthened sharia law, adding a potential death penalty for gay sex, a celebrity led boycott of The Dorchester Collection, a hotel chain owned by the Sultan of Brunei, ensued. Ultimately, the Sultan agreed to a moratorium on the implementation of the law, but it has created ongoing financial issues for the hotel chain.
The “G” in ESG is for governance and ultimately, transparency is part of good governance. Corporate transparency is also increasing dramatically as the barriers to disseminating information drop. Companies that have one point of view in their marketing or internal policies but support a conflicting perspective with their public affairs and lobbying will be unable to avoid scrutiny and tough questions. Driving that alignment will ultimately be better, and clearer, for everyone, even if it may be hard to predict in advance what the company actually believes. My strong hope is that when pushed to take a stand, we will all stand for love.