Out, But Still Not Always Equal, in Retail


Corporate America tends to avoid controversy. But when it came time for the Supreme Court to rule on marriage equality in 2015, 379 major companies and business organizations filed an amicus brief in support.

“To reap the rewards of diversity,” the brief read, “employers need to be able to recruit and retain top talent … through equitable and competitive benefits packages.”

For retailers, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality is a talent issue — and a marketing opportunity. The LGBT community’s global buying power is enormous: $3.7 trillion in 2016, according to one estimate.

NEW partner Target Corp. is an industry leader in supporting LGBT rights and outreach to the community. The retailer’s #TakePride campaign, now in its fifth year, includes LGBT-themed merchandise online and at select stores.

Despite Backlash

Target’s commitment to marriage equality and the federal Equality Act has remained strong despite backlash from some interest groups and consumers. (The Equality Act, which protects the LGBT community from on-the-job discrimination, is also supported by NEW partners Chevron, The Coca-Cola Co., Delhaize America, CVS Health, General Mills, The Hershey Co., Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg Co., Office Depot, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, SAP and Unilever.)

Last year, Target became the first national retailer to weigh in on North Carolina’s far-reaching “bathroom bill,” and faced a boycott for its transgender-friendly restroom and fitting room policy. At the time, Target announced, “We stand for equality and equity, and strive to make our guests and team members feel accepted, respected and welcomed in our stores and workplaces every day,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told Fortune the decision had not hurt sales.

The retailer’s stance is in line with progress inside the country’s largest companies. Twenty years ago, just 4 percent of the Fortune 500 included sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies; today, 92 percent do, according to Out and Equal Workplace.

Transgender-specific protections also have become the norm. The percentage of Fortune 500 companies that include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies has grown from 3 percent to 82 percent in the past 15 years.

Beyond Policies

Still, legal protections, company policies and good intentions alone do not create change.

Nearly half of those surveyed by The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said they believe enforcement of their company’s nondiscrimination policy depends on the supervisor’s personal feelings toward LGBT people.

While more than 80 percent of non-LGBT people say LGBT people “should not have to hide” who they are at work, less than half report being comfortable hearing a LGBT coworker talk about their dating or social lives, according to the HRC study.

The type of speech deemed “acceptable” sends a message to all employees about who is likely to be respected, well-regarded and offered leadership opportunities (and who is “fair game”).

When negative stereotypes — often defended as “just a joke” — go unchallenged, the message is clear: the workplace is not equal or safe for LGBT employees. Consider this: Nearly two-thirds of LGBT workers (62 percent) reported they hear jokes about lesbian or gay people at least “once in a while.” More than 40 percent reported hearing jokes about bisexual people at work, and nearly as many said they hear jokes about transgender people. It’s no surprise, then, that more than half of all LGBT workers nationwide say they hide who they are in the workplace.

Inclusion Upside

When openly gay and transgender employees are welcomed by their company and coworkers, employee morale improves — and so do profits.

LGBT-supportive policies and cultures are linked to greater job commitment, improved workplace relationships, increased job satisfaction and improved health outcomes among LGBT employees, according to research by The Williams Institute at UCLA.

Those findings are supported by the HRC research, which revealed 26 percent of LGBT employees surveyed have stayed at a job because the environment was accepting. Nearly 10 percent said they have left a job because the environment was not.

Chances are, your workplace and stores can be more supportive of LGBT employees and customers. Out and Equal Workplace outlines steps that have helped many companies create LGBT-inclusive environments. How many has your company taken?

Company policies and benefits

  • Include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.
  • Recognize same-sex couples and their families with full, equal benefits.
  • Ensure that health coverage includes complete benefits for transgender employees.

Talent management

  • Recruit, hire and offer mentoring to LGBT employees.
  • Establish and support LGBT and ally employee resource groups.
  • Track recruitment and advancement metrics for LGBT employees who self-identify.

Workplace environment

  • Provide LGBT-specific diversity training.
  • Use climate surveys to measure effectiveness of diversity policies and programs.
  • Include LGBT diversity objectives in management performance goals.
  • Communicate to all employees how the organization supports its LGBT workforce.

Commitment to community

  • Support nonprofit groups working for LGBT equality.
  • Sponsor and encourage visible participation in LGBT cultural events.
  • Develop and implement LGBT-inclusive marketing and advertising strategies.
  • Include LGBT-owned businesses in supplier diversity program objectives.


  • Be a visible role model for LGBT workplace equality in the community.
  • Support public policy efforts that protect — and actively oppose attempts to restrict — LGBT workplace equality.

Target’s strong commitment to LGBT inclusion syncs with the type of corporate culture that today’s young employees and future leaders prefer (and expect) — one that embraces diversity and offers equal opportunity for all.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News

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