Randy Berry, the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, made the business case for corporations to support LGBT rights around the world to LGBT leaders and allies of multinational corporations in San Francisco on March 23.
During his keynote speech to 90 senior LGBT and ally executives, Berry appealed to the business leaders why he believes they hold a key role in advancing LGBT rights around the world at Out & Equal Workplace Advocates’ ninth annual Executive Forum Conference on March 22-24.
Berry also urged the corporate leaders to partner with the state department on the mission for equality and prosperity by joining the Global Equality Fund and the newly forming Equality Business Advisory Council; lending their voice on behalf of LGBT rights worldwide; and understanding local culture and laws and its potential effects on business.
He also stated clearly that the state department is readying to provide support in companies work on behalf of human rights, particularly LGBT rights, where it can.
“We need your partnership,” said Berry directly during his second time this year he’s addressed LGBT and ally corporate leaders speaking at an Out & Equal conference. “We know that governments that neglect or oppress sections of their population are both failing to use the full potential of their citizens and hampering in fact their own their prosperity.”
“I firmly believe that businesses have a key role to play to ensure societal and cultural change,” Berry said, noting the effects of LGBT people being able to be out in the workplace in many companies and policies that benefit LGBT employees and improved corporate bottom lines within the U.S.
“In the U.S. we’ve seen the influence of businesses have had in supporting diversity and inclusion and pushing back against discrimination,” he continued. “It’s a major part of the equation.”
Speaking to the audience during a breakfast gathering, Berry pointed out recent studies that clearly showed the economic benefits for countries that decriminalize homosexuality and implement anti-discrimination legislation. He pointed to the World Bank’s 2014 study and the joint study conducted by the Williams Institute and the United States Agency for International Development.
“Each additional right that was implemented was associated with roughly a 3 percent increase in the gross domestic product,” said Berry. “That is enormous.”
“The business case is clear. It is articulated well and it should be consistently echoed in numerous ways and not just here,” he added. “It’s important for businesses now to take this message global.”
Better business globally
Berry posed the question for company leaders to ask of country leaders where they want to develop business opportunities, “If you really care about economic development, why would you intentionally thwart the ability of companies that you want invested in your country to do their best business?”
“When you [business leaders] speak up you change the terms of the debate. You actually put governments on notice,” Berry quoted Vice President Joe Biden from his recent speech at the World Economic Forum, where LGBT rights were on the agenda for the first-time ever.
For the second year in a row the conference happened while states initiated anti-LGBT legislation. In 2015, Indiana passed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This year North Carolina in an emergency legislative session in response to Charlotte’s anti-discrimination law, which was set to go into effect April 1, passed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, effectively stripped protections for LGBT people in the workplace March 23.
Corporate and the National Basketball League’s responses have been swift shaming North Carolina for its actions. At the same time Hollywood and the National Football League have threatened to boycott Georgia if the state’s governor Nathan Deal signs into law House Bill 757, which would allow pastors to not perform same-sex weddings if they didn’t want to.
While these are issues currently happening in the U.S., Berry urges multinational corporations to use its influence globally as the world becomes more interconnected.
Making the business case, Berry noted the challenges, especially when deploying LGBT company leaders and emerging talent as a positive career move to countries where homosexuality is criminalized and the local community faces brutal violence and not as beneficial on a personal front. Same-sex marriage might be legal in the U.S. now, but crossing borders and overseas it’s a different story. The state department is monitoring nearly 80 countries where same-sex relationships are illegal and in some cases punishable by death, he said. Sending gay employees to these countries with their families poses either serious personal obstacles or loss of that employee, one he said the state department is familiar.
Asking an employee who is LGBT to make a decision where their career and personal life are in conflict because of anti-gay laws in countries is detrimental to companies. It costs companies talent and increasing high turnover rates that lead to increased investment in recruiting and training, which then threatens the stability of the businesses, he pointed out adding that the state department also continues to tackle the same issue.
Selisse Berry, founder and CEO of Out & Equal, agreed adding that she’s advocated for companies to do several things to add another layer of protection when LGBT employees are sent around the world as a part of their professional development and career advancement. Some of the things she’s encouraged companies to do is roll out anti-discrimination and other pro-LGBT policies globally, retain LGBT-friendly policies, such as domestic partnership policies in spite of same-sex marriage being won in the U.S. to protect partners and family members; and have “LGBT realities” embedded in travel advisories and policies and transparency with advisories when placing LGBT employees in various countries around the world, she said.
“It’s kind of a step given that we don’t have equality yet,” said Berry, who has officially moved Out & Equal to the global stage by opening an office in Washington, D.C. last fall, to work with government policy makers and companies.
Out & Equal Deputy Director Rachel Rubin added that the LGBT workplace advocacy organization works with companies on three different levels from helping companies match corporate culture and policies with country laws, be a safe space for LGBT employees within its walls within the country, and being an advocate and using its business muscle with government officials in the countries they operate in, she said.
However, there is movement toward progress in some regions. Randy Berry pointed out that Mozambique, a Southern African nation, decriminalized homosexuality in 2015 and recently the government of Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off of the coast of East Africa that is a popular vacation destination, announced plans to decriminalize homosexuality too.
“I do believe that the unique opportunity that is present in a number of countries around the world, the economic case, the business development case can be compelling and non-political, which is exactly where I believe we need to have this conversation,” said Berry.
“I think that there are a dozen states globally that are ready to do that with the right kind of encouragement, not the right kind of threat, but the right kind of encouragement to do so,” he added.
Selisse Berry agreed noting changes happening in India and the Dominican Republic adding, “I wouldn’t call out one country that has miraculously changed, but we are moving in the right direction.”
However, she added that companies aren’t at the advocacy level yet, but the people at the conference, which included representatives from companies like Disney and Clorox, are the ones that are going to be making the “business case people in India, China and Russia also need to bring their whole self to work to really focus on their job and not on hiding who they are,” she said.
The bottom line
“This isn’t just a matter of doing it because it’s the right thing to do. From a pure business stand point this is smart business; this is smart economics; this is smart development,” said Berry. “Countering discrimination makes a corporation competitive by attracting and retaining top talent. It helps drive market innovation, win the business, especially with discerning consumers.”
Berry informed the corporate leaders that “corporations have a bottom line incentive to create a workplace where our community is accepted and valued for the people that we are.”
“By creating an inclusive global work environment, this is an area where your company’s have a tremendous role to play, where your policy is truly reflected in inclusivity both here at home and when you are operating external to the United States as well,” he said.
“I really do believe firmly as we progress the business case, business involvement, is going to become ever more important,” said Berry. “Our policy is going to be persistent there.”
However, he noted that it isn’t simply businesses and government’s responsibility to promote LGBT equality globally.
“It is clear in our interconnected and interdependent world that it is the responsibility of all of us: governments, civil society, and business, to work together to take a stand against discrimination and injustice,” he said.
World Psychiatric Association supports global decriminalization of homosexuality
The World Psychiatric Association issued a statement recommending global decriminalization of homosexuality March 23.
The association, which represents more than 200,000 psychiatrists from 118 countries around the world and represents 138 national psychiatric associations, provide six recommendations including that LGBT people should be regarded as “valued members of society” with “exactly the same rights and responsibilities as all other citizens;” recognize the “universality” of same-sex expression across cultures; consider same-sex attraction, behavior, and orientation as “normal;” acknowledged discrimination and stigma against LGBT people and the distress caused; called for the need for decriminalization of homosexuality; and called for more research for mental health of LGBT people.
“People with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities may have grounds for exploring therapeutic options to help them live more comfortably, reduce distress, cope with structural discrimination, and develop a greater degree of acceptance of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the statement, which also called for the “provision of adequate mental health support.”
To read the statement, visit wpanet.org/detail.php?section_id=7&content_id=1807.