ENDA, a big beginning step

It’s said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The U.S. Senate took a giant leap forward last Thursday as 10 Republicans crossed party lines and passed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The push for its passage comes not just from individual Americans but from businesses that have recognized that an inclusive work environment is a strong magnet in attracting, retaining and sustaining top talent of all genders and sexual orientation.   This measure is urgently needed to put into federal law a basic principle most Americans support: Job applicants and employees should be judged on their professional credentials and the caliber of their work, and not be held back because of who they are.

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New research from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), shows that a diverse workforce can be a potent source of innovation, since diverse individuals are better attuned to the unmet needs of key end users like themselves.  Indeed, their insight is critical to identifying and addressing new market opportunities. When teams have even just one member who represents the team’s target end user, the entire team is far more likely to understand that target, increasing their likelihood of innovating effectively – if a speak-up culture makes that representative feel secure about raising ideas and sharing insights.

The ultimate dividend: the combination of a diverse workforce and leaders who get that diversity makes companies measurably more innovative.

Yet, The New York Times writes:

Currently, just 17 states have laws barring employers from refusing to hire or promote people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and another four states have workplace nondiscrimination laws that cover gay men, lesbians and bisexuals but not transgender people.

In this still-shaky economy, companies need their top talent to be fully engaged. When LGBT employees feel accepted and included, the workplace is an environment where everyone can be fully committed to giving their best efforts. It is a bottom-line imperative that organizations work to create a workplace where LGBT workers feel accepted, valued and comfortable being who they are. Everyone benefits.

So while we celebrate this important step forward, let’s not forget that we have many miles to go. Keep walking!

Hewlett is CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation.