Sunday, September 25, 2022 Sep 25, 2022
78° F Dallas, TX
Politics

When Business Gets Political

Some companies are outspoken when it comes to adding their voices to hot-button political conversations, while others prefer to remain silent. Here are some things to consider when your business is thinking about taking a stand.
By
Image
iStock

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling overturning the legal precedent for Roe v. Wade, major airline carriers like American Airlines and Southwest did not issue company statements on the hot-button topic, despite a history of taking a public stance on voting reform, affirmative action, and gun control. Alaska Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to put out a statement, confirming its willingness to cover travel costs for employees seeking access to reproductive care. It read: “We will continue, just as we always have, to provide employees with extensive benefits to support your health and well-being, no matter where you live. This includes reimbursing travel for certain medical procedures and treatments if they are not available where you live.”

Closer to home, JPMorgan Chase announced to its 14,600 local employees that it would pay for them to travel to another state to obtain a legal abortion beginning on July 1. Dallas-based Match Group established a partnership with Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles to ensure its employees would have access to abortions if they chose. The technology giant also confirmed it would cover the travel and lodging costs for its employees who would need to travel out of state to receive medical care. And, according to CNBC, California-based Salesforce offered its some 1,000 Dallas-Fort Worth employees relocation assistance to any of its other U.S. offices if they worried about receiving access to abortions or medical care.

But a Gartner poll from late May found that 60 percent of human resource executives said they wouldn’t be adding Roe v. Wade-related benefits. Fewer than 10 percent said their companies would provide compensation for travel costs for reproductive care. In a survey from research nonprofit The Conference Board released in June, 10 percent of the 300 U.S. public companies polled said they had or planned to issue a public statement on reproductive rights. In contrast, 51 percent have publicly addressed other issues such as gender equality, LGBTQ rights, anti-Asian violence, or vaccinations. Most of the companies surveyed said they have responded or planned to respond internally.

 “Companies should have a clear process and criteria for deciding whether, when, and how to respond to social issues,” says Paul Washington, executive director of The Conference Board. “The pressure to address these and other social issues is unlikely to abate. Having clear guidelines can help set expectations for how the company will respond in the future and ensure that the company is appropriately taking into account the divergent views of multiple stakeholders.”

The pressure to address these and other social issues is unlikely to abate. Having clear guidelines can help set expectations.


Paul Washington, The Conference Board

Locally, the North Texas Commission, led by president and CEO Chris Wallace, has a long history of organizing business sentiment to provide a unified voice when it comes to combatting discriminatory bills proposed by the Texas legislature. In 2017, when the proposed “bathroom bill” that would ban counties, cities, and schools from letting transgender individuals use bathrooms of their choice and, instead, force them to use the gendered bathroom of their birth, more than 1,200 companies statewide signed onto the Texas Competes pledge to help defeat the bill.

“Through the Texas Competes pledge, companies can confirm their commitment to keep the state economically competitive and vibrant while asserting their corporate values of diversity, equity, and inclusion for all of its employees,” Wallace says.

Another resource for businesses is the North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce, whose president and CEO Tony Vedda has been instrumental in establishing a coalition of the LGBT Chambers in North Texas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, plus more than 1,000 affiliated companies. “Through our advocacy and outreach work, we call upon local elected representatives to introduce and support legislation that encourages diversity in the workplace and opposes discrimination of all kinds,” Vedda says. “In Texas, when business thrives, people prosper. For this to happen, all Texans’ rights must be heard, included, respected, and valued.”

In March, more than 60 corporations signed on to the Human Rights Campaign’s petition to Gov. Abbott’s attempt to criminalize parents for helping their transgender child access medically necessary, age-appropriate, and gender-affirming healthcare in the state. A March 14 ad in The Dallas Morning News declared in bold type: “Discrimination is bad for business.”

Authenticity and Belonging

One of the local companies that signed the petition was Neiman Marcus Group. Eric Severson, the company’s chief people and belonging officer, says that the discriminatory policy didn’t align with its “Lead with Love” and “Stand for Love for All” mantras. “We were one of the first Dallas-based companies that signed this letter to show our support for the LGBTQ community,” Severson says. “NMG is a place where everyone belongs, where diversity of thought is valued, and where showing up as your full and authentic self is encouraged. We believed the executive order directly contradicted our policies and targeted people who make up our business, so we spoke out to advocate for them and the communities we serve.”

Best Practices

According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index report, 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies. That number is up from just 3 percent two decades ago. Notably, several local companies earned a rating of 100 percent on the 2022 report, including AT&T and American Airlines. To score a 100 percent on this year’s edition, companies had to provide access to transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits, establish mandatory gender transition guidelines, and promote workplace policies to ensure gender inclusivity. “By using the Corporate Equality Index criteria as a guide, businesses can help ensure that their existing policy and benefits infrastructure is inclusive of LGBTQ workers and their families,” says Joni Madison, interim president of the HRC.

A Guide to Pronouns

You may have seen more pronouns appearing in your co-workers’ and clients’ email signatures and social media bios. What do they mean? The pronouns “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers” mean the individual identifies as either male or female on the binary scale. Some non-binary (those who don’t identify as either male or female) and transgender people prefer “they/them/theirs,” which is gender-neutral. If you’re ever confused about someone’s gender, simply ask: “What pronouns do you use?” The word cisgender (those who identify as the same gender as birth) has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix, cis, meaning “on this side of.” It’s the opposite of trans, meaning “on the other side of.” Cisgender individuals can show they are allies by adding pronouns to their e-mail signatures and helping to normalize the conversation around gender identity. 

In addition, Neiman Marcus Group announced its platinum-level sponsorship of the Human Rights Campaign and garnered point-of-sale and employee donations during the month of June and July in all Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, and Last Call stores. “Our unique ‘NMG|Way’ of belonging champions workplace equity for all associates through a mindset of love,” Severson says. “Partnering with the Human Rights Campaign is just one way that enables us to continue this important year-round work.”

Plano-based Alkami is another local company that signed the HRC’s March petition. CEO Alex Shootman released a trans-inclusive statement on International Transgender Day of Visibility earlier this year affirming the company’s stance. “Always remember, true allyship is not a single action but a sustainable behavior that creates a more inclusive environment for everyone,” he said. “At Alkami, we are proud to cultivate a workplace for everyone who is passionate about digital banking.”

Dallas-based AMN Healthcare was yet another signee to the petition. Following its top ranking in the last HRC Corporate Equality Index, the company’s CEO released the following public statement: “Equality in the workplace is vital to our team members and to the success of our company,” she said. “AMN has an active strategy to enhance equality, diversity, and inclusion, and we seek to evolve our strategy based on our success metrics. We are convinced that we can all achieve our personal and professional goals only when we capitalize on our differing backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, and when we embrace equality in our workforce, workplace, and marketplace.”

In Texas, when business thrives, people prosper. For this to happen, all Texans’ rights must be heard, included, respected, and valued.

Tony Vedda, North Texas LGBTQ Chamber of commerce

When making the all-important decision whether to comment publicly on political issues, Bernadette Davis, founder and chief strategist of Plano-based Bernadette Davis Communications, recommends taking a hard look at company values, what matters most, and, most important, what affects employees and community. “When they see something they can address that is within their sphere influence that is aligned with their corporate values that they want to support, or maybe is not aligned and they want to make it clear that it is not aligned, that’s the time to speak up,” Davis says.

Increasingly, Davis says, stakeholders—customers, clients, partners, and employees—are paying more attention to company statements. “If you have something that you think is important from a justice standpoint, from an equality point, it stands out to people when a brand they care about takes a stand,” she says. “That being said, it has to be aligned with your company values and actions. What we saw in the summer of 2020 was a lot of companies that stood up and said things that weren’t aligned with the way that they operate every day.” 

Davis says businesses tend to favor taking stances on issues that have a majority of public support because issuing a statement that customers do not agree with can affect the bottom line. “One of the biggest things companies need to keep in mind—and this has been true for years now—is the need to treat their internal and external messaging the same,” she says. “Whether you have thousands of employees or a few dozen, what you are saying to your employees should align with what you are saying to your customers, and vice versa.”

Impact on Talent

Taking a political stance can also affect your company’s position in the marketplace to recruit and retain talent. For instance, a Gallup research poll suggests that 21 percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ and nearly two-thirds of Gen Z say they are worried about the state of LGBTQ rights in the United States. “That’s a plurality of the next generation that identify and look favorably upon equal rights for LGBTQ people,” Davis says. “If you’re a business owner and want to keep operating in the future, that’s your next customer base. That’s where you’re going to recruit your new talent. Gen Z increasingly makes purchasing and employment decisions around what aligns with their values.”

For Monica Greene, an iconic Dallas restaurateur who transitioned from male to female in 1994 and has been a longtime transgender community advocate, the state’s recent legislation banning transgender athletes from competing in high school sports is another example of discriminatory lawmaking. Greene says it will be up to future generations to make the world a better place for all.

“There is so much transphobia and hate in today’s society,” she says. “We’ve become so divided politically. But I have to hold out hope for the next generation and their collective sense of justice and compassion. The pendulum may be swaying in one direction politically right now, but I choose to see light in the next generation and how it places an emphasis on equality for every human being. I don’t believe we’ll be having any of these same debates in 20 years from now, when one’s humanity will be all that matters.”

As part of our 2022 DEI package, read the personal stories of three North Texas transgender executives.

By the Numbers

10%

of U.S. public companies have issued or say they plan to issue a public statement on reproductive rights.

51%

of U.S. public companies have publicly addressed gender equality, LGBTQ rights, or related issues.

60%

of human resource managers say they don’t plan to add Roe v. Wade-related benefits for employees.

10%

of HR managers say their companies will cover employees’ travel costs related to reproductive care.

1,500+

companies have signed on to support the Texas Competes pledge, as of August 2022.

74

companies signed the Human Rights Campaign’s March petition in support of parents of transgender children in Texas.

1,000

Texas companies support the Texas Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) Chamber of Commerce.

842

companies achieved a top score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index.

138

companies representing nearly every business sector participated in the HRC’s CE Index for the first time this year.

63%

of Americans are opposed to allowing transgender athletes compete on teams that align with their gender identity.

77%

of American voters support equal rights and protections for transgender employees in the workplace.