I’ve been asked to speak at the Diversity and Inclusion Summit about a month from now. I’ll be speaking on the Business Case for LGBT Diversity.
When I was writing the title of my presentation, part of me flinched. It just sounds so technical. As if we have to make a business case, with spreadsheets and big data, to justify hiring LGBT people. That there are nuances to this community’s work and talent that drive higher revenues and better culture. That there’s a spreadsheet that calculates my value versus the straight guy next to me.
There is no formula or spreadsheet for human worth. There are statistics that estimate how many people are homosexuals in the first place, how many have come out at work (or haven’t) and how many people in the LGBT community report experiencing discrimination as a result of coming out. But as far as how that impacts the business? There’s no science to that.
However, when Martin Luther King Jr was born, there was an equation. The value of African Americans to some Americans was $0, purely based on the color of their skin. There was no other data to input. There was no equal playing field. There was no golden rule.
But there was a dream.
That’s what Martin Luther King Jr’s message was all about. It wasn’t about building a business case or showing ROI but rather closing the gap between the American Dream and the reality people were facing. He was asking the world to dream with him, of a better society where everyone was equal and we all treated each other the way we wish others would treat us. While I don’t have an equation to measure the value of that simple behavior, I know how it makes me feel. I know how it can change the world.
Today, we live in a world that’s significantly better than it was the day he gave the speech (in some ways) but we still have groups that are not equal. That’s why there are diversity programs and strategies. Because inevitably, marginalized classes feel, well, marginalized. They are insignificant and a peripheral concern to the majority. They have to ask for the same benefits and protections as their majority counterparts, while performing the same duties. They have to carefully select opportunities based on the viability that they can succeed in that context, not because of their background, but despite it.
It’s not fair. It’s not the American Dream. But every time one of us steps in to offer advice, to help build programs to pay it forward to other marginalized groups, we help decide the ROI of a great diversity program as simply giving everyone the chance to feel human and keep pursuing our dreams.