The elusive CEO of the richest company in the world, Apple’s Tim Cook, has taken a rare step into the spotlight to urge Congress to ban sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.
“Those who have suffered discrimination have paid the greatest price for this lack of legal protection. But ultimately we all pay a price. If our coworkers cannot be themselves in the workplace, they certainly cannot be their best selves. When that happens, we undermine people’s potential and deny ourselves and our society the full benefits of those individuals’ talents.”
I’m no fan of bigotry, but is Cook, who is widely thought to be gay himself, right that discrimination hurts the economy? In short, yes, but it’s hard to determine the impact.
A UCLA Law review of research finds that anti-discrimination policies make for healthier, more cooperative, and committed workers [PDF]. IBM-sponsored ethnographic research finds that gay workers who feel accepted in the workplace are also more willing to share creative ideas [PDF]. “If I’m not out at work, I spend more time trying to conceal my home life and therefore not concentrating on my job.” explained one respondent.
To some extent, we’re lucky to live in a country where our economy isn’t held hostage to Congress’s inability to promote equality. Nearly every major company in America supports gay workers and knows they’d face crippling public backlash on top of missing out on top-notch talent by discriminating. The companies most in charge of innovation won’t be impacted by legislation.
Still, every sick, disparaged, and fearful worker hurts the economy. Innovation comes from unexpected places: every fired teacher and bullied teenager makes it that much less likely innovative Americans will ever reach their potential.
One of the godfathers of modern computing, Alan Turing, died shortly after the British government forced him into chemical castration for being gay. Turing’s revolutionary mathematical theorems proved how computers could be more than simple calculators. He died at the young age of 41 directly from discriminatory legislation. Who knows what he could have contributed to computing in the later years of his life?