Companies are just collections of people, and people are imperfect. In some cases, our flaws are just the innocuous expressions of our human design. But in other cases, we have weaponized our shortcomings as a means to make ourselves feel powerful on the backs of others. And many workplaces offer little sanctuary.
Sure, nobody wants to think that their choices are born of bigotry. But the reality is if there are not people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations at all levels of our company, then corporate diversity is just lip service.
The math is simple: If your boardroom is exclusively a collection of straight, white, cis men, then your company is making racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic choices. It does not matter your industry, business category, geography, or the intentions of your mission. There are no excuses. In this day and age, it is incumbent on companies to recognize the intrinsic ethical issues and competitive advantages associated with diversity, and then staff accordingly.
Behind the Scenes of Bigotry
Behind the scenes, here’s how this bigotry often works:
- Leaders insist they aren’t biased, but when a promotion or opportunity rolls around, they just don’t know if someone’s “ready” or “mature enough” (since only heterosexual, cis men can really display maturity).
- Leaders claim they only hired the best candidate, knowing full well that the interview pool lacked diversity.
- Leaders claim they are not homophobic but deny LGBTQIA+ professionals opportunities because their clients or customers are “old school” (a euphemism for their collective bigoted beliefs).
- Leaders say how liberal they are but fear the company culture is awfully conservative (code for some gay men not being masculine enough, straight enough, etc., and consequently leaders not risking their own careers to promote them).
- Leaders insist LGBTQIA+ people closet themselves (refrain from being less than they are, require them to lie, etc.), just so they can put them at ease.
- Leaders create corporate values (often in the guise of religious freedom) explicitly designed to promote bigotry.
Bigotry Is a Form of Abuse
Let’s be clear. Bigotry is a form of abuse. It is a way to steal money and power from those who happen to belong to some minority but are equally or more deserving than their peers in the majority.
Corporate bigotry is often a form of state-sanctioned theft, since many states in the country deny explicit legal protections for LGBTQIA+ workers. It is welfare for straight, white, cis men, a way to shift capital from one group to another.
The impacts are often profound and long-lasting. Those of us denied opportunities are rarely able to recoup any lost money in the long run. In the aggregate, those workers hired instead of us continue to earn raises, bonuses, and promotions at relatively constant rates. Meanwhile, those of us who could not get our foot in the door continue to fall further and further behind, until at the end of our careers we realize we were never able to catch up.
These impacts are further exacerbated with the increasing geographic segregation of our country. While more and more coastal states and municipalities enact employment legislation protecting LGBTQIA+ workers, many states in the center and south of the country are not yet following suit. That creates a fragmented employment fabric across the country. It falls to workers to advocate for their own best interests, while activists work with legislators to change laws.
Not everyone can afford to pick up and move to a state that practices greater equality, but we can all get empowered. We can organize. We can insist on better government representation. And if you work for a company that does not value LGBTQIA+ people, it’s time to take stock and consider your options.
Adapted from A Gay Man’s Guide to Life: Get Real, Stand Tall, and Take Your Place by Britt East (Houndstooth Press, 2020).