From Chick-fil-A to Apple, more and more major companies are taking policy positions on gay marriage. Arguably, there's a business case for supporting it. Google, Starbucks, Nike, General Mills, and other big brands have all opened themselves up to both the potential risk and opportunity of supporting LGBT equality. Even Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, announced his support in a Human Rights Campaign public service announcement: "America's corporations learned long ago that equality is just good business and it's the right thing to do."
There has been a steady increase in the number of large employers including sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies and offering same-sex partner benefits. A 2010 Mercer survey of about 3,000 companies found that same-sex benefits were offered by 72 percent of companies employing more than 20,000 people. Americans align themselves with brands that reflect their values — and according to recent opinion polls by Gallup, ABC, and CNN, marriage equality is now supported by a majority of mainstream Americans.
Surely no company wants to discriminate, and all should consider the growing support for one of the last frontiers of federal civil rights. But there are also concrete business reasons for a company announcing its support of LGBT equality — all tied to the bottom line.
It boosts employee recruitment and retention. The 15th Annual PWC Global CEO Survey (2012) section titled "The Talent Challenge" focused on the impact talent recruitment and retention has on business growth and competitive differentiation. The study also highlighted the increasing recognition of the importance of employee engagement in improved performance and retention. As a recognized and critical success driver, it is not surprising that some companies have cited talent as a key argument for supporting LGBT equality. Additionally, with LGBT employees making up 5-10% of the working population, companies neglecting to promote an inclusive culture will likely miss out on the opportunity to attract top talent from this segment of the workforce.
Former President Bill Clinton emphasized this point with a message to North Carolinians earlier this year, urging them to vote against the state's proposed ban same-sex marriage. He said: "What it will change is North Carolina's ability to keep businesses, attract new jobs, and attract and keep talented entrepreneurs." Microsoft echoed Clinton's argument with a post on the company blog in January 2012 announcing its alliance with other Washington State-based businesses taking a stand in support of marriage equality: "As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington's employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families."
Corporate cultures where diversity and openness thrive will more likely attract top talent, especially young, creative, and entrepreneurial candidates. For example, when Dow Chemical received recognition from the Human Rights Campaign for its support of LGBT rights, the company agreed with this sentiment: "We have long believed that the ability to present a truly diverse and inclusive workplace is critical to our success and integral to our strategy to attract, develop and retain the best and brightest talent." This kind of inclusive environment not only warms the LGBT talent base to your company, but also their friends and family, who happen to make up 60% of the population according to a recent CNN poll.
The marketplace demands it. Back in 1991, a Wall Street Journal article included a chart entitled, "A Dream Market," comparing gay households to the national average, noting the relative potential advertising appeal for a variety of industries. The two decades that have followed have seen an increase in marketing and advertising to the LGBT market that Marketing firm Witeck-Combs estimated at $800 billion in 2011.
LGBT marketing is on the rise. In May, JCPenney released a Father's Day ad featuring two dads and their kids; the ad debuted several months after the organization One Million Moms attempted to boycott the department store for selecting Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson. In June, it was reported that Apple's new mobile operating system, iOS6, will include gay and lesbian couple icons as emoticon selections. Kraft Foods and its Oreo brand celebrated 2012 Pride Month with a colorful (and ultimately controversial) Facebook posting and tweet of the iconic sandwich cookie. And GM received a nomination from the 2012 Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Amplifier Awards for an advertisement that targeted LGBT consumers with a Chevy Volt "coming out" as an electric vehicle.
In this vein, many companies are taking a stance based on economic competitiveness and business opportunity. After Macy's came under attack for releasing a catalogue featuring a same-sex couple atop a wedding cake, the department store released this statement: "Macy's proudly serves a large and diverse marketplace, including customers with a wide range of needs and preferences. We strive to embrace customers of all ethnic backgrounds, ages, races, faith traditions, genders and lifestyles through the products we sell and the content of our marketing." Fred Keeton of Caesars Entertainment — which is listed as a platinum member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association Foundation — put it simply: "The LGBT community is an incredibly important market segment for our properties."
Public corporate support for LGBT equality brings with it both business risk and opportunity. But the last five years have seen a significant increase in the number of companies deciding to embrace the reward rather than the risk of voicing support for LGBT rights. The rationale is clear — supporting marriage equality makes business sense, and according to many companies, it's also the right thing to do.