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The Business of Pride

About half of LGBTQ employees still lead closeted lives on the job. Here’s what North Texas companies are doing to create a more inclusive workplace for all.
dallas pride skyline
Joseph Haubert

Gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals have seen tremendous gains in the past five years—most notably the right to marry, in June 2015. Last year, Beth Ford was named CEO at Land O’Lakes, becoming the first openly lesbian woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, following LGBTQ execs Tim Cook at Apple and Jim Fitterling at Dow Chemical.

Despite these gains, a report released in June by Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign found that only 54 percent of LGBTQ employees are out at work—an increase of just 5 percent from a decade ago.

Mario Nguyen, an associate at Dallas-based law firm LockeLord, says he is the only openly gay lawyer among the firm’s 274 statewide attorneys. “As great as Texas is, we’re behind on diversity because a lot of people still view the South as a bastion for racism and homophobia,” Nguyen says. “A lot of people don’t come back after they go to school out of state. Or, even if they go to school in state, they end up leaving because they perceive a more welcoming environment elsewhere—and I think that’s not always true. It’s a matter of slow progress, education, and having diverse people be the catalyst and facilitator for change.”

Some North Texas companies are working to create an inclusive environment for all employees. Eleven businesses based in the region received perfect scores on this year’s Human Rights Campaign rating of LGBTQ-friendly policies and benefits: American Airlines, AT&T Inc., Celanese Corp., Comerica, GameStop Corp., Haynes & Boone, LockeLord, Nokia Inc., Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, Toyota Motor North America, and TPG Global.

Toyota was among the first companies in the United States to adopt domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples, making gays and lesbians in committed relationships eligible for the same benefits as married straight couples.

On a different leading industry metric—the 2019 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, released in May by DiversityInc—Dallas-based AT&T was ranked No. 1 for diversity in its talent pipeline, talent development, leadership commitment, and supplier diversity initiatives. “We are a richly diverse and multifaceted group of people,” noted Corey Anthony, AT&T’s senior vice president and chief diversity officer, when the rankings came out. “We are thousands of individuals who represent a variety of backgrounds, genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, nationalities, generations, and experiences.” AT&T officials said the company believes diversity and inclusion isn’t just right—it’s good for business.

Recent research by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation supports this claim. Its study found the stock performance of public companies increased an average of 6.5 percent after enacting LGBT-inclusive policies, when compared to similar companies in the same industry.

It’s not just about recruiting and retaining talent. Businesses are beginning to require diversity in the companies they do business with and the contractors they hire. That’s the case with Toyota Financial Services-US: “Diversity is a huge factor in the decisions we make to hire people and teams to work on matters for us,” says Ellen Farrell, interim general counsel and secretary. “We are moving the needle on [diversity] because it matters to us, and we convey to our clients that it matters. … It’s the ripple effect. Watch how the ripple goes through the water and makes change, because it challenges assumptions and it changes assumptions.” 

What It Takes

Creating an inclusive workplace starts at the top. “It takes senior leader commitment,” says Amy Philbrook, chief diversity officer for Fidelity Investments. “It’s not necessarily how loud the message for diversity and inclusion is at your company, but it’s about how consistent that message is. You have to instill a level of accountability. It is accountability around how you do what you do, not necessarily around targets or quotas. You want to be very intentional on the D&I front and trust that the outcomes will follow.”

Philbrook, who works out of the Boston-based company’s headquarters, emphasizes that establishing and maintaining a diverse and inclusive business does not mean becoming an overnight success story. Instead, it’s an ongoing process. “As a leader, you have to have a tolerance for disruption,” she says. “If your best efforts go into preserving your culture at the expense of embracing differences and changing as the world grows and changes around you, that’s not going to work.”

Joe Weber, chief human resource officer for Dallas-based Neiman Marcus Group, is the first to tout the retailer’s inclusive environment inside each of its 43 Neiman Marcus stores across the United States, two Bergdorf Goodman stores in Manhattan, 24 Last Call locations, and one Mytheresa location in Europe. “And that starts at the top,” Weber says. “Our CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck often speaks about his husband and children. He sets a great example for those who want or need to see themselves reflected in him. That permeates through our organization. We want everyone to bring their authentic self to work. That makes us a better and more unified organization.”

When it comes to recruiting, Weber notes that, like many companies, Neiman Marcus Group must “go to where the talent is; our stores use whatever’s best in their location.” However, he adds, “Our best strategy [for recruitment] is receiving referrals from our current associates. Our diverse workforce is comprised of our greatest advocates.”

Neiman Marcus Group’s community involvement with LGBTQ organizations like amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research and Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner are just two of its many year-round efforts to promote LGBTQ inclusivity throughout its organization, Weber says. “I wouldn’t call our approach systematic or corporate, and that’s by design,” he says. “We believe diversity and inclusion programs work best when they’re born organically. It’s what our associates and customers want, and it’s our job on the corporate end to support and engage.

“The perfect example is what you saw from Neiman Marcus during Pride month in June,” Weber continues. “The pins that were worn by associates nationwide, the display windows that celebrated Pride, the double decker bus in New York City that we wrapped—those are all ideas from our associates, and then we experienced how much customers loved it.”

Whole industries are slowly being transformed, even old-school ones like construction and engineering. AECOM Senior Vice President Wendy Lopez, who is an out lesbian, says showing up and representing her company in the LGBTQ community is one of her most important roles. “As a leader in my office, my job is letting staff know that is OK to be yourself,” she says. “You’re not going to be discriminated against at our company.”

AECOM’s sponsorship of nonprofit professional association oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is one of her favorite recruiting events of the year, because of the diverse talent pipeline it provides. “There are a lot of college students just starting out looking to get hired,” Lopez says. “Christian Bevington from our San Francisco office, who is gay, and I went to Houston last year to represent AECOM. … As someone who is just starting their first job and worrying about who they are, to see people like them in roles of authority in a company, it gives them the green light that it is safe to be who they are at our company.”

Workforce of The Future

For companies that wish to continue to thrive, providing an inclusive workplace is no longer a choice. According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report, “fostering a culture that leverages acceptance and growth of all employees is important to recruiting and retaining talent.” The chamber found that 72 percent of employees said they’d leave an organization for one they thought was more inclusive. And about 80 percent of respondents said that inclusion is an important factor in choosing an employer.

By not providing an inclusive environment for LGBTQ employees, businesses are missing out on about 4.1 percent of the U.S. population—or an estimated 10 million U.S. adults.

Non-inclusive employers will have a hard time filling jobs in the future. Generation Z, or those born after 1996, are the country’s most racially and ethically diverse generation, according to a Pew Research Center report. Nearly half (48 percent) of post-millennials aged 6 to 21 are from communities of color. Additionally, 35 percent of Gen Z say they personally know someone who prefers that others refer to them using gender-neutral pronouns. About half of Gen Zers and Millennials say gay and lesbian couples being allowed to marry is a good thing for our society, according to Pew Research Center findings.

It all adds up to a future workforce that cares about diversity and inclusion at work. Restaurateur Monica Greene says she looks forward to incoming generations ascending corporate ladders into more leadership roles in North Texas. “I think we’re one generation away from when people will no longer care if you’re man or woman, gay or straight,” she says. “Eventually the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities will be seen as tightly woven into the fabric of this community—and I absolutely love that.”   

Read the personal journeys of seven local business executives.


Brandon J. Call

Brandon J. Call

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Brandon J. Call is the former executive editor for D CEO magazine. An award-winning business and data journalist, Call previously…