The Next Inclusiveness Challenge

7/10/15

For the past 20 years companies have sought to create inclusive environments where every employee feels fairly treated regardless of their race, sex, religion or sexual preference.  This laudable goal has benefited employees, companies, and the communities in which they both live.  However, a new inclusion challenge is on the horizon, and I have not seen many companies prepare for this.

The Supreme Court's recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the nation settled the marriage question legally, but did not settle it at a personal level.  Certainly the same-sex marriage movement has progressed over the past 10 years to where the most recent poll shows approximately 60% of Americans support it.  However, at the same time that means 40% do not and my guess is that within your organization, these percentages apply.  The inclusion challenge emerges from the fact that anyone who opposes it has been labeled as hateful, anti-gay and/or a bigot.  For instance, Brendan Eich, CEO of Mozilla was forced to resign as a result of his having donated to an organization supporting Proposition 8 (a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman).  Mayors of the cities of Boston and Chicago banned Chick-fil-a from opening stores because of the fact that their CEO, Dan Cathy, stated his personal opposition to same-sex marriage.  This issue has resulted in a polarization where to hold a traditional view of marriage as between one man and one woman (usually for religious reasons) has become the moral equivalent of supporting discrimination with all the ensuing condemnation.

I have no desire to take a position on this debate, but beware that you and your firm have employees on both sides of this issue.  You will have to face decisions regarding what kinds of discussions your firm condones, and the manner in which those discussions are conducted.  Can someone express their personal beliefs that they disagree with the Supreme Court's decision in the workplace?  If they do, will that be considered offensive?  If so, will that person be subject to some progressive discipline?  And, if so, will you then be subject to a lawsuit for religious discrimination?  It seems better to have thought this through before the workplace erupts rather than after.  You need to be clear about how to best ensure that neither the civil rights of your LGBT employees or those of your religious employees are infringed in the workplace and that both groups feel included.  If you don't, trust me, that storm is coming.