Indiana's RFRA 'Fix' Doesn't End Discrimination

Reprinted with permission by the author from LinkedIn


By Beth A. Brooke-Marciniak,Global Vice Chair, Public Policy; Diversity and Inclusiveness sponsor at EY

You know the old saying, “When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.” Well, with all eyes on Indiana due to the recent national firestorm over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the “fix” is merely a first step. At least when Indiana found itself in a crater of its own making, it stopped digging.

As a business leader who is gay, I am aware that I can be thrown in prison in some countries to which I travel. And in the U.S., 52 percent of LGBT population still lives in states where we can be fired based on our sexual orientation or gender identity.

Prior to Indiana’s RFRA, I would never have thought of the possibility of being refused service in a restaurant in Indianapolis where I began my career. After all, I was born and grew up in Kokomo. My Hoosier heritage taught me the value of humility, hard work and the importance of kindness. Nobody was any better than their neighbor, and, based on these common beliefs, we all respected and valued each other.

As we all now know, the national firestorm over RFRA brought new and powerful players onto the field some of Indiana’s largest employers joined conventions, churches and sports-events organizations to register their protest. Many global corporations issued statements about the inadvisability of this legislation. As a result of this intense economic pressure, the act was amended to make clear that businesses and individuals cannot refuse service or goods to people based on sexual orientation, gender identity or other reasons.

But the sad reality is that the “fix” actually just returns Indiana to where things stood before RFRA LGBT discrimination in the workplace is permissible throughout most of the state.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for Indiana to take a bold stand and influence the rest of the country. Look at the impact the situation in Indiana had in Arkansas. It sure looks like the economic onslaught in Indiana influenced the Arkansas governor to veto a similar piece of legislation. So can you imagine the impact if Indiana not only “fixed” RFRA, but also announced a state-wide law that forbids LGBT discrimination in any form

Indiana has the chance to really lead here most Americans are not fully aware that in 29 states people can still be fired for being gay. But with national attention firmly fixed on Indiana, this is the time to make it clear that discrimination cannot ever be legal in the US.

As I said in a speech I gave before the Economic Club of Indiana on Nov. 12, 2013, and as I will say again, Indiana refuses to be inclusive at its own economic peril.

Even more impactful than the threat of withdrawal of companies and events is the insidious effect a lack of anti-discrimination legislation can have on Indiana’s workforce and on its ability to compete in an increasingly globalized economy.

Because in the 21st century globalized world, difference matters and it matters a whole lot to Indiana. Winning companies of the future and winning regions of the future will be those that attract, retain, and grow the best talent at every level from the playing field to the workplace to the boardroom. And like every other place in the world, Indiana must compete for talent.

Back in a 2010 interview, EY’s Chairman was asked how he had come to focus so much on diversity and inclusiveness. He responded by saying, “We are in the service business. We have no equipment, no machinery, no fixed assets, no inventory. All we have are our ideas and people. Every one of our assets goes home every night. We need to be the kind of place they want to come back to the next morning.”

Talent is only going to want to come back to you the next morning and stay with you if they feel like their perspectives and opinions matter. Talent will leave not just the job, but the state that discriminates against them and dismisses their importance.

Talent good talent that likes to have its opinions and views embraced as opposed to rejected will not want to work in a culture that disrespects difference.

Difference matters and everyone is different. This isn’t about “them” some nebulous them. It is about “us.” All of us. And we are all different. And all of us have a right to contribute to improving an economy in which we all can thrive.

I have always been proud of my Hoosier heritage. I know Indiana can do better than this and seize the chance to lead the nation there is still time, but it is passing. And without bold action, the state’s economy will struggle to remain competitive, both in the U.S. and across the globe. Will Indiana have the courage to lead, now

This article originally appeared here on IndyStar.com with the headline: “My view: The ‘fix’ is only a first step.”

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