Politics? How Business Has Transformed Civil Rights!
The culture of outrage has always been with us. Today, we are more aware of it due to the immediacy of social media. The biggest problem about the practice of outrage is that it detours us from making positive change, especially in our own lives and the people we touch.
In the early 90s, moviegoers were standing in the longest lines waiting to get in and see Basic Instinct. Protestors from the LGBTQ community were irritating customers simply because Sharon Stone’s character was immoral, wickedly evil, shockingly sexual, and a lesbian.
I called the Chair of the political action group that orchestrated the rally and suggested we were not solving a thing by parading around provocatively attired protestors yelling out the surprise ending. “Look,” I argued, “if we want equality, we’re going to have to make room for an ice-pick-wielding lesbian.” I had seen the movie and if there was any group that ought to be out there protesting it would have been white-middle-aged straight men.
But then, words were blurted out of my mouth that surprised both of us.
“Besides, the LGBTQ community will achieve greater equality from Madison Avenue long before our government accomplishes a thing.”
I do have compassion for what all of us did during those difficult times. Progress was happening, but we were often pushed by pain rather than vision. AIDS was killing thousands every month, employers were redlined by the insurance industry to push infected people out of many employer’s insurance pools, and we had a President who looked the other way. My company does quite a bit of business with the advertising industry and many key leaders became aware that the LGBTQ category offered advertiser’s a whole new market of rich disposable income. At the time, I watched this watershed change.
Years ago, our community didn’t want to be special! We wanted to live in a world where being gay was no big deal. We wanted to be able to live our lives in peace. And, while I applaud and honor those who heroically stepped forward, many tend to have a blind spot of just how much business has done to accomplish so much of the heavy lifting through legitimate diversity programs.
Recently, a great deal of outrage was caused by the infamous “Bathroom Bill” in North Carolina making it illegal for transgenders to use the “wrong” bathroom. Despite all of our beatings of the shield, the bill went through. But, that action swiftly led to a loss of $3.76billion as businesses pulled out or scuttled plans to give money to the state. Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and numerous artists canceled concerts on-the-spot.
While many of us were enraged with the baker, we missed the headlines in business papers:
Forbes – “Companies with LGBT!-Inclusive Ads can increase sales by 40%.”
“Last year’s award-winning LGBT themed ads came from Tiffany, Campbell’s Soup, Lexus, Wells Fargo, Doritos, Nordstrom, Absolut, Equinox, and Macy’s.”
Yes, I acknowledge that Doritos might be less fashionable than great big marches.
Today, many of the world’s most powerful companies are the most vocal about civil rights to the LGBT community as well as women’s rights with equal pay. While ultra-right evangelicals on the fringe characterized Aids as a death sentence from God, Coca-Cola, The Walt Disney Company, Google, Morgan Stanley have created cultures where everyone who performed was not only welcomed, they were actively protected.
It would take many years for a President to stand before this country and declare that our government did not have the right to dictate who we could love. But, before that watershed moment, Madison Avenue had done a great deal of heavy lifting.
When I found my life’s work, political engagement became far less important. I remember standing up in 1990 in front of our first 36 participants. By the end of that weekend, I realized that finding one’s life purpose changes the world far more quickly than trying to produce political change. In reality, it has always felt like pushing an egg up a hill with my nose while the culture of outrage takes potshots for having any position at all. I respect everyone who takes on this challenge. But, I just find immediate improvement great for my soul.
I have worked with a business owner for 12 years. Our relationship began right after she founded her company. Today, her organization is the #1 brand in its field. All of this wouldn’t have happened if her first job in politics had worked out. After coming out of graduate school, a well-known Senator, one she highly respected, offered her an internship. One day, she received a package from thousands of constituents providing ways to improve the state’s school system. She found this very exciting. As she studied the feedback, she realized that with a little help from his office, their state could achieve a tipping point in education. That senator took that project and tossed it in the trash saying, “We don’t have time for this and they will never know.”
She went onto to accomplish far more by building a business that actively changes people’s lives.
Instead of vilifying a bigoted baker for not selling an ugly sheet cake, we can accomplish far more by thanking the companies that left the state! Instead of giving mediocre vendors free advertising, go patronize a better baker.
Perhaps it is time to recognize that a Campbell’s Soup commercial showing a loving gay couple raising their children not only took courage, but it was also based on a sound business decision. Many continue to throw rocks because throwing rocks represents their entire repertoire. Let’s think of the recent challenge at Starbucks when a manager threw out two men, apparently due to her own bias. Consider the carefully orchestrated impact Starbucks had on many employers by taking full ownership of its diversity imperfections and investing immediately in meaningful improvements.
My career is focused on all that is work. My time is used in helping people find and succeed in what they were born to do and to help employers become better employers. In that space, our political leaders are failing to help our country’s talent find their way into the future of work. Because underemployment has become the nation’s biggest source of turmoil.
Today, I believe that equal pay is the most pressing civil rights issue in our country. All of su will benefit from this move forward. Far more women leave marriages than men. As behavioral scientists and policymakers study statistics, it is becoming clear that economic inequality is the single biggest contributor to divorce. But, how many women and men know that employers such as Adobe, Apple, Amazon, Dow, and Delta Airlines are just a few of the major employers that practice equal pay? I believe the single biggest benefit will be wiping away the kind of turf protection that has always kept the opportunity landscape as narrow as possible.
Oh, it isn’t enough? Of course, it isn’t enough. Perhaps it never will be. That is my experience of true growth. But we sure can accomplish more by focusing on solving problems rather than spending vast amounts of time complaining about them.
Solve the problem!
I know today that everyone and anyone who reads this has that capacity.
It happened with me and I’ve watched the process of finding one’s true purpose can end the chewing off of thousands of tails.
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