By Nicki Gilmour, Founder and CEO of Evolved Employer

The business rationale for creating and maintaining an LGBT inclusive workplace, much like the business case for gender equality, boils down to one very simple thing: your top performers come in all stripes.

As a leader, it is your job to create a meritocratic culture, because the business case for workplace diversity and inclusion is, frankly, about business. At the recent Out on the Street event, around 170 LGBT executives from Wall Street firms gathered to discuss Wall Street as an employer. Not historically known for being a gay friendly industry, we explored how to make Wall Street an employer of choice for the LGBT community.

Todd Sears, Principal of Coda LLC and the creator of Out on the Street, which was formed to open up dialogue between LGBT senior executives and straight allies who work in change leadership positions on Wall Street, commented exclusively to Evolved Employer:

“For years, we’ve known that LGBT consumers and employees are well-versed in a company’s stance towards LGBT equality, and will make employment and buying decisions based on it.”

Measuring Inclusiveness in the Bottom Line

Indexes such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Stonewall Index in the UK rank companies on their gay-friendly policies and procedures, and even the Fortune Best Places to Work list has begun to include criteria such as same sex benefits in its methodology to determine who is a progressive employer. Surveys and benchmarks are important as we need visibility to see who is doing what, or rather who is doing nothing to tackle biases around what it means to be gay at work.

Sears continued:

“Friends and family members of LGBT people who have realized the importance of a company’s support of LGBT equality are the newly emerging and passionate champions that companies can harness. These people know that LGBT policies are a great litmus test for the amount of innovative thinking that goes on within a company and, like their LGBT counterparts, support companies that share in their values.”

Multinational corporations are increasingly interested in the LGBT community as consumers, decision makers, and shareholders. Sure, some of this might be compliance driven, but the smart money is on business leaders who truly understand how to not only manage their talent better but who can also tap into the LGBT client base, which in 2010 has a collective buying power of $743 billion dollars in the US alone.

According to the HRC’s Guide, Buying for Workplace Equality 2011, “47% of lesbian and gay people say they would be very likely to remain loyal to a brand that they believe to be very friendly and supportive of LGBT issues, even if it costs more or is less convenient.”

If women are the next emerging market behind China and India, then surely the LGBT consumer is a group that need to be serviced by people who understand them and value them.

By creating or allowing a working environment that makes 6-10% of your staff feel that the consequences of simply being themselves is detrimental to their career, then you are losing your competitive advantage to other firms who do understand that inclusion adds value to the bottom line.

Understanding the Marketplace

Tony Tenicela, who leads IBM’s global commercial strategy for LGBT and workforce diversity business development efforts, explained how IBM has understood how commercial opportunities can be leveraged by understanding, in personal terms, the marketplace you are selling to. He said:

“At IBM, diversity fosters innovation in the way IBM addresses the needs of our clients and helps the world work better. Given the breadth of IBM’s business across 170 countries, diversity is a competitive differentiator that enables IBM to reflect the global diversity of our customers. From a GLBT market perspective, the discretionary income of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community is growing every year, along with their presence in the workplace and marketplace. IBM’s ability to provide thought leadership to our customers in addressing constituency markets, as well as further leveraging those customer relationships to identify other business opportunities, is what makes this business model unique and effective.”

Diversity is a function of talent management. Yet so many business leaders don’t register that. Not only are LGBT individuals (often called the invisible minority) hard to see, but the cost of not creating policies and programs to ensure a culture where coming out has no negative consequence (perceived or real) is very difficult to measure.

Jeffrey Siminoff, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Morgan Stanley, attended the conference and concisely explains why understanding your workforce leads to better business. He said:

“By empowering our people and prospective employees to bring their full selves to the table, we leverage differences to drive best-in-class business results and enhance the development of our talented professionals. Our proud commitment to LGBT diversity fully incorporates each of these foundational Morgan Stanley principles.”