Why join your LGBTQ+ employee resource group in 2021?

I recently spoke at the OECD GLOBE Annual Meeting on the topic of why “Why join your LGBTQ+ employee resource group in 2021?” GLOBE is the thriving LGBTQ+ employee organization of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an intergovernmental economic organization with 37 member countries based in Paris.

The question of the need for Employee Resource Groups is not only valid for multilateral organizations but also for companies. In 2017, Deloitte, a New York-based financial advisory firm, made the global headlines by announcing that it is phasing out its diversity groups in favor of “inclusion councils”. Their argument being that ERGs are “superficial safe spaces” in which diversity and inclusion are celebrated through the lens of food, fun, and festivities.

In the aftermath of the Stonewall 50th celebration, younger people in large corporations in urban areas may also feel that with changing attitudes and greater equality in benefits, there is no need for them to join their ERG. They can often now be open about who they are at work without risking the rejection of their heterosexual or cisgender peers.

Indeed, when I became President of World Bank GLOBE in 2010 the focus was almost exclusively on benefits and having a social space for mostly closeted staff members. As an example, we still did not obtain visa for our same-sex partners to join us in the United States (something Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only fixed years later). Think about it: 11 years ago, LGBTQ+ employees of International Organizations based in the US were still forced to choose between their families and their career.

Today in many countries, there are laws that protect us from discrimination and most benefits in the workplace are equal (even though trans-related and fertility benefits are lagging behind). Yet, at Out Leadership, we believe that LGBTQ+ employee resource groups continue to be a condition sine-qua-non to workplace equality as well as a key instrument for organizations to connect organizations with their LGBTQ+ stakeholders whether they are clients or beneficiaries.

I articulated my speech in favor of ERGs around three themes:

  1. Remaining discrimination. I have written extensively in the past few months about the lavender ceiling and intersectionality. While we have witnessed progress in hiring and retention of rank-and-file employees, LGBTQ+ people remain excluded from many decision-making bodies: Senior Management, the Executive Committee or the Board of Directors. I like to say that you can count the number of LBQ women at the top of business on both hands from Inga Beale in London to Gigi chao in Hong Kong. Similarly, only 25 out of 5670 Board Seats in Fortune 500 companies – or 0.2% – are currently occupied by LGBTQ+ people. Even the US Congress, the “gayest congress that we know of” openly LBTQ+ members (11) has a 2% representation. When you look at representation of intersectional identities representation drops even more quickly. We still have a long way to go on our journey towards equality;
  2. Responsibility to those who come after us. It can be tempting for a white gay male in an urban area to step away from the movement when many of his equality goals have been reached. This was argued by Andrew Sullivan in a controversial oped in the wake of the Title VII Supreme Court decision last June. However, these gains are the exact reason why we continue to have a responsibility to those who have not experienced progress. The gay men that came before us made gigantic sacrifices to get us to this point. These sacrifices are often forgotten because most of these men got eradicated by the HIV epidemic. The burden of responsibility is now on us to ensure trans people, the vast majority of LGBTQ+ people who still live in hostile environments and intersectional identities now benefit from progress. Finally, let us never forget that almost all young LGBTQ+ people will go to bed tonight raying to their god to wake up with a different sexual orientation or gender identity. And until every LGBTQ+ child knows he is part of god’s plan as much as his heterosexual or cisgender peer, our fight is not over;
  3. Leveraging our positions of influence. This was an easy argument for me to make as my interest in the role of multilateral organizations in the LGBTQ+ movement for equality started 9 years ago at the OECD. In May 2012, a symposium was organized by the Idaho Committee’s Louis-Georges Tin and Joel Bedos (International Day Against Homophobia on the Board of which I now serve as Secretary) and GLOBE OECD to examine the economic and financial cost of discrimination against LGBT people. I represented the World Bank as the head of their employee resource group. This led me to launch in 2014 the first study on the cost of homophobia, carried out by my colleagues Prof. Lee Badgett and Phil Crehan, which has now been replicated in almost every part of the World. This is a testament on how engaging LGBTQ+ people in their employee resource group allows them to use their identity to advance the mission of their organization.

ERGs continue to be key in multilateral organizations to ensure we are not “merely guests of the majority” in our respective organizations – a thought I had articulated when I left the United Nations exactly a year ago (see Why I Left the U.N. LGBTI Team to Join Out Leadership).