Ask the White Guy: Decision Making, Clarity of Values & What to Do When It Goes Horribly Wrong

We previously covered a story regarding an anti-LGBT-rights law promoted by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. The chamber was reacting to the city of Nashville passing a pro-LGBT-rights law. Several companies on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list are members of that chamber. We confronted them and asked how they could support a bill that was in conflict with the values espoused by their corporate leadership via their diversity departments.


All stated their opposition to the bill, but the damage was done, and as the heat started to rise, the governor signed the bill into law, bringing Tennessee into the circle of states that affirmatively oppress their LGBT citizens.

The corporate reaction to our questions was swift but after the fact. I think most companies’ headquarters were genuinely surprised by the actions of their colleagues on the chamber’s board. That leads us to a “teachable moment”—here are some ground rules I’ve learned by observing companies closely:

1. Decision making is best by having clarity on your values.

Credibility received for your professed values is dependent on your decisive execution of actions based on your values. This does not preclude empathy and forgiveness for mistakes, but values cannot be parsed without exposure to repercussions.

2. Your best possible business outcome is dependent on your ability to equitably execute on fair and equitable treatment.

People treated fairly have a better relationship with you—better relationships transcend commodity pricing and increase the quality of your revenue stream. Better relationships also increase employee engagement and productivity—as well as reduce regrettable loss.

3. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, you cannot hide.

Your actions will be publicly evaluated and the resulting addition or subtraction from your brand image will have an impact on your business.

Here is some food for thought regarding human rights, business and our LGBT neighbors:

Rights afforded to one group that do not diminish another group’s rights are what this country is all about. This was the basis of women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act—and it is the basis of the lawsuit that overcame the anti-LGBT Proposition 8 in California. The anti-LGBT forces could not produce a single expert who could show that same-sex marriage in any way diminished heterosexual marriage. Married couples have certain legal rights, and extension of those legal rights to same-sex couples does not hurt heterosexual marriages and does not force your house of worship to marry same-sex couples. Freedom from a state-run religion and freedom of religion from the state are part of our Constitution.

Here’s some personal advice if you think marriage is for one man and one woman: Don’t marry someone of your own sex.

Finally, especially for companies that are publicly traded and/or regulated by the government (which, in aggregate, includes just about every company), there are some things to keep in mind regarding communications, donations and membership:

1. Communications sent in “secrecy” are worse than no letter at all, as “secret” complaints constitute tacit approval.

2. An organization cannot stink selectively. The chamber’s actions were anti-LGBT rights, period. This cannot be parsed, and if your continued membership in an organization conflicts with your stated values, then you have a problem across the entire organization.

3. Conflict in values produces brand damage and potential exposure to lawsuits and is detrimental to shareholder equity. Your personal opinions or politics do not trump your organization’s need to do business properly. This is especially true for leaders.

Over the almost 14 years of publishing DiversityInc, we’ve seen the practice of managing diversity become more effective by orders of magnitude in the most competitive companies. Questions about diversity are now on 100 percent of DiversityInc Top 50 companies’ requests for proposals (RFPs). This directly communicates a statement of values. The ripple effect of diversity values is aggregating into a bow wave as globalization is enhanced by web and cell communications. This gives companies unprecedented opportunities—and unprecedented responsibilities—that transcend nations.

This creates seemingly complex challenges—but I don’t think they’re all that complex: If you have clarity on your values, then don’t violate them; if you’re doing business with a company that violates your values, you are violating your values; and if you make a donation or support an organization that has facets that violate your values, then you are violating your values.

We will all make mistakes. As Dr. Cornel West said at one of our events, “We are all cracked vessels,” and the public is very forgiving of a speedy and forthright apology, particularly if it’s backed by redemptive action. Such as, for example, resigning from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

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