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[Event Recap] [BASIC Event] An Update on the LGBT Workforce, Presented by Shelley Alpern and Laurent Belsie

Dylan Brix

[Event Recap] [BASIC Event] An Update on the LGBT Workforce, Presented by Shelley Alpern and Laurent Belsie
Editor's Note: Special thank you to Dylan Brix for writing up this event summary. Follow Dylan on Twitter at @dylanbrix. 

On Thursday September 24th the Boston Area Sustainable Investing Consortium sponsored a seminar titled “An Update on the LGBT Workforce.” Hosted by The Christian Science Monitor at their stunningly beautiful building located on Massachusetts Avenue, the discussion was led by Laurent Belsie of The Monitor and Shelley Alpern of Clean Yield Asset Management

Belsie opened the discussion by introducing a (very) recently updated report that he coauthored titled 2015: Asia Ground Shifts for LBGT Workers Abroad. The report provides risk profiles for LBGT safety in 11 countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, The Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. Overall, his findings were generally optimistic, demonstrating that the risk of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in Asia is decreasing. However, Belsie did not paint a completely rosy picture. He highlighted that two of the countries surveyed, Indonesia and Pakistan, have demonstrated increasing hostility toward the LGBT community. Furthermore, two other countries, India and China, have demonstrated political dynamics that may lead to backlash against the LGBT community. Belsie explained that the survey found that in authoritarian states, government attitudes toward LGBT rights had significant effects on the attitudes of the general public. Additionally, those countries that are eager to attract foreign capital investment may be the most willing to protect the rights of LGBT workers. 

Alpern built a valuable context for the discussion by offering the seminar a brief history of LBGT advocacy.  Alpern highlighted 1991 as a watershed year for LGBT, when Cracker Barrel made national news by firing employees explicitly for their alleged homosexuality. This injustice served as a rallying point for the LGBT community, and for related corporate advocacy, and it led to nearly years of filing activity for fair LGBT workplace policies. By the 2000s, as Alpern put it, it was relatively easy to engage Russell 1000 companies to update their LGBT workplace policies. However, she admitted that outside of Europe, making progress on LBGT corporate protections is more challenging. Alpern then shared the findings from a survey she led last fall, which explored the international application of LGBT workplace policies of a subset of the S&P 100.* The survey found that two-thirds of respondents offer benefits to same sex couples living in overseas jurisdictions where it is legal locally, and one-third of the companies will support employees’ efforts to relocate their partners. Interestingly, however, no companies expressed a willingness to actively engage foreign governments on LGBT rights.

After the speakers finished their remarks, the audience participated by sharing experiences, raising questions, and brainstorming strategies for advancing progress in the adoption of LGBT workplace policies internationally. The group identified promising ideas including the development of a code of best practices in LGBT international policy, and building a related scorecard in order to benchmark performance. Another promising suggestion was to have investors ask companies to explicitly incorporate their LBGT fairness values into their decision-making process for making political contributions. Lastly, the group considered how capital allocation creates leverage to effect change. Some countries in Southeast Asia, for example, are urgently seeking to attract foreign investment, which may make them more willing to accommodate LGBT workplace policy demands of investors. Most of all, the discussion also affirmed the simple power of asking specific and challenging questions to corporations, in order to spur action. 

The next BASIC event is on the topic of inequality, especially as it relates to the Sustainable Development Goals, and how it relates to investing and finance. It will be held on October 22, 2015 at 5:30pm. Please sign up at www.bostonsri.org/upcoming

*The survey was a part of a letter writing campaign supported by investors with approximately $200 billion in assets under management. It was sent to approximately 70 companies who had international operations and were recognized by the Human Right’s Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index to be leaders on LGBT workplace issues, domestically. Of the companies contacted, 34 responded.