Author’s note: I wrote the following essay for a local business group, after they invited me to be a guest blogger for their new-ish page dedicated to diversity. After I sent them this, I was informed that they are discontinuing their diversity blog. I guess I broke it? Change and growth are hard and challenging sometimes. So here you go anyway. #SorryNotSorry
A majority of Americans (82%) and a majority of Texans (70%) support laws that protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in all aspects of life. Yet the Texas legislature has filed 70+ anti-LGBTQ bills just this year alone, ranging from rescinding existing local nondiscrimination ordinances (NDO’s), to regulating what sports teams transgender children can play on, and even limiting or outright denying a transgender or nonbinary child’s access to healthcare.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the data show clearly that these policies are not only out of touch with the average Texan, but that discrimination is quite simply bad for business.
Consider this: when North Carolina passed a statewide “bathroom bill” in 2016, that state lost 2000+ jobs due to cancelled corporate investments. When Indiana passed a 2015 bill that discriminated against their LGBTQ residents, over 1 billion (with a B!) negative social media posts were generated about the Hoosier State in just 30 days. Right here in Denton, Texas, a conference that was meant to be hosted by the University of North Texas at our (then) brand-new convention center had to be relocated out of state after the Texas Legislature passed HB3859, a bill that critics claim will discriminate against same sex and other LGBTQ individuals seeking adoption.
That’s money — along with jobs and opportunities — lost.
With so much at stake for our state and local economy, it’s more critical than ever that individuals and businesses of any size take the lead to ensure that our LGBTQ colleagues, neighbors, and loved ones are protected in our community. Here are 5 things you (and your business) can do to promote inclusion in your workplace and in the Texas workforce:
- Start (or join) an employee resource group at your company. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups and are found in over 90% of Fortune 500 companies because they bring marginalized voices to the forefront, highlight the diversity of the team, help companies identify ways they can better reach specific demographics among their employees and customers, and foster a more inclusive workplace. If your company doesn’t have an employee resource group yet, approach your human resources department and find a way to create one.
- Be mindful of pronouns and chosen names. Your transgender colleagues may not be able to change their legal documents to reflect their true name and gender, but that doesn’t make their need for affirmation any less valid. If you call your cisgender (that is, “not transgender”) colleagues by their nicknames, or if you can remember the new last name of a co-worker who recently changed their marital status, then you can make the effort to remember your transgender colleague’s chosen name and pronouns as well. It may take some practice, but that effort goes a long way towards making them feel welcome and included at work.
Additionally, if you have a medical-focused business (such as a doctor’s office, a chiropractic clinic, or a massage studio/spa), include a space on your intake forms for pronouns and a chosen name (or nickname). You may still need to file insurance under their legal name and gender, but while being seen in your office you can treat them with dignity by respecting and using their pronouns and chosen name.
- If you work for a company that includes health insurance, advocate for your transgender colleagues so they are equally covered. If cisgender employees have access to hormone therapy for conditions like menopause or hypogonadism, then transgender people should also have access to these medically prescribed treatments as well. Anything less is discrimination, plain and simple.
- Provide parental leave for all parents, not just the one who gave birth. This recognizes the growing (and long overdue) trend of co-parenting, and encourages dads to play a more active role at home with their partner and newborn. But it’s not just moms and dads in heterosexual relationships that deserve parental leave — Same sex and opposite sex couples alike often adopt children or rely on sperm donors or IVF (in-vitro fertilization) to grow their families. Providing parental leave for parents, regardless of marital status, gender, or whether they had a role in the delivery room, makes for healthier families, happier workers, and a stronger, more stable business (less turnover!) in the long term.
- As an individual, as a business owner, and/or as a member of your local Chamber of Commerce (or other professional network/association), make sure you regularly contact your elected officials to voice your opposition to bills that discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and support bills that further equality. Remember: They work for you, not the other way around—so let them know what you think. Whether you work for a large or small business, encourage the owner (and/or board members) to write press releases and letters that push back against anti-LGBTQ legislation. Legislators want to create jobs in their districts, and bills that discriminate against anyone not only limits corporate investment, but also diminishes the number of talented applicants coming to our area and to your business.
Both as individual workers and as a collective body of like-minded business owners, it is in our best interest to keep the Texas economy going strong. According to a recent Forbes article, “Nearly 150 major corporations signed a national letter opposing the efforts of state legislatures to target LGBTQ people. In Texas alone, a recent economic study found that a statewide LGBTQ nondiscrimination law could potentially lead to 180,000 new jobs, $1.2 billion in annual state revenue, and $19.8 billion in annual tech and tourism gross product.”
Creating policies and practices at our businesses that protect, support, and celebrate the diversity of our workforce — as well as fighting back against discrimination at the state level — will benefit everyone across the Lone Star State. Now let’s get to work.