In 2017, the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey was launched to gauge citizens’ support for legalizing same-sex marriage. During the survey campaign, several companies also made their support known. Qantas was an early corporate voice for the “yes” vote — and received both accolades and the lion’s share of public ire for its efforts. Qantas’s openly gay CEO Alan Joyce was criticized by some government ministers and even assaulted by a protester while delivering an address at an event. (In the end, nearly two-thirds of citizens who took the survey were in favor, and the Australian Parliament made same-sex marriage legal in December 2017.)
Some company leaders still worry that engaging on LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) rights will invite similar kinds of criticism. Traditional wisdom suggests that addressing a still divisive subject may alienate those against same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues. The fear is that if enough customers, employees, or investors take offense, they could initiate boycotts, quit their jobs, or sell their shares, harming the company’s financial performance in the process.
Making things even more challenging, LGBTQ rights vary greatly from country to country. As of fall 2018, in 69 out of the 193 countries recognized by the U.N., including much of Africa and Asia, same-sex relationships are considered criminal.
Despite the risks, some global companies are making demonstrated efforts to support LGBTQ employees and issues. Major players are unabashedly out in their support for LGBTQ-friendly workplaces and laws. Google publicly commends its employee resource groups — grassroots communities — including Gayglers (which “informs programs and policies, so that Google remains a workplace that works for everyone”) and Trans at Google (which “seeks to ensure that the company’s products and policy stances are inclusive of all gender identities and expressions”). Microsoft’s “Pride” section of its website has videos of “people who inspire us” and suggestions for how individuals can support LGBTQ nonprofits financially.
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Other companies wonder how to engage. Those that approach LGBTQ issues thoughtfully can not only reduce the risks to the brand, sales, and profits, but also strengthen the company and impact public opinion. These issues can become a cornerstone in the effort embraced by many companies to become purpose-driven organizations making a societal difference in the world.