Corporate strategist Todd Sears on why LGBT inclusivity matters – Crain’s New York Business

The founder of Out Leadership, a B corp and strategic advisory and membership organization, Todd Sears works with global corporate leaders helping them recruit LGBT talent and create inclusive cultures. The firm’s membership includes 68 companies such as American Express, Bloomberg and Citigroup. Among its initiatives are Out on the Street and Out in Law; OutNext, a leadership-development program; Quorum, which advances the case for openly LGBT directors on corporate boards; and OutWomen, a networking effort for senior women in business.

You say that diversity should not be human resources’ job. Why?

If something gets relegated to HR, it sometimes gets deprioritized and becomes a compliance exercise. Talent is the single largest business and innovation driver a company has and, for a business leader, it should be the No. 1 thing to focus on. HR should be in a supportive role. The business has to own it.

How do you keep diversity management from being an exercise in quotas?

It’s how you measure it. Every major company has engagement surveys. I encourage them to slice them by gender and ethnicity and see differences in engagement in different populations. You have to understand corporate culture and what is preventing you from retaining or hiring women, for example. Not every company needs to be 50% women. That’s “check the box.” It’s more about opportunity and needs, business climate and business objectives.

Four regional surveys publicly rank corporations on LGBT inclusivity. Why did you start your own survey?

I wanted to build something that is global, benchmark-able and private to the companies so that they are more willing to share. The goal of the survey is not to get 100%. In a pilot with 10 of our global corporate members, the highest score was 66% and the lowest, 24%. The goal is to identify gaps and opportunities. It’s more about improving internal culture so that it’s better for employees and clients.

You recently launched CEO briefs based on your LGBT Business Climate Index. What did you find?

The full research will be available in September. There is some really interesting preliminary data, such as the data on “covering,” which is when employees in a workplace hide an aspect of their identity to fit in. It’s important because when someone is covering, they are not being authentic and are using a lot of energy.

What have you achieved so far with Quorum, your effort to help companies recruit LGBT board members?

Quorum has three prongs: getting companies to understand that LGBT is included in the definition of board diversity, identifying potential directors and making sure they are prepared and creating market demand. When we started, only two companies in the Fortune 500 included LGBT in their diversity definition. In the past two years, seven multinational companies changed policies, and the total is now nine. At least four more are working on it this year.

How do you help firms identify potential directors?

We’ve created a database of almost 1,000 senior LGBT leaders who have created profiles to be considered for boards, and we are working with pension funds and private-equity funds to create the demand. When a company says it matters, we say, “Here they are.” 

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