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Virgin CEO Richard Branson explains why LGBTI diversity is good for business

Virgin founder and fourth richest man in the UK Richard Branson has written about why LGBTI acceptance is good for business and his fears that Russia’s treatment of gay people will harm its economy
Virgin CEO Richard Branson
Photo by David Shankbone

Virgin founder Richard Branson has written about why acceptance of LGBTI people is good for business in a column for Entrepreneur.com.

The 11 March column was written in a response to a question from a reader asking, ‘How do you merge the cultural diversity of individuals into a profitable brand?’

Branson replied that having people from a diverse range of backgrounds was important in any business’ success.

‘Diversity is an advantage for any company, and can be an important factor in its success,’ Branson wrote.

‘Over more than 40 years of building our businesses at the Virgin Group, my colleagues and I have seen time and time again that employing people from different backgrounds and who have various skills, viewpoints and personalities will help you to spot opportunities, anticipate problems and come up with original solutions before your competitors do.

‘Regardless of the position you hold or the industry you work in, the key is to lead by example: Embrace diversity, starting with the choices you make for your first hires. An entrepreneur who hires a lot of people who are just like her and have had the same experiences will find that she’s leading a team that is less creative and helpful to customers, and ultimately produces lower profits.’

Branson also wrote that having an accepting workplace was key to getting the most out of LGBTI employees.

‘Research shows that companies that have a diverse workforce have a distinct advantage,’ Branson wrote.

‘For instance, according to the Center for Talent Innovation’s report “The Power of 'Out,'” the LGBT community’s buying power added up to $700 billion in the United States alone in 2011, and many people in this group prefer to buy from gay-friendly businesses. Discriminating against potential customers just makes no sense from an economic, or any, viewpoint.

‘The report also revealed some of the internal costs to discriminatory policies: LGBT people working in unfriendly environments reported feeling depressed (34%), distracted (27%) and exhausted (23%), while those who reported feeling isolated at work were 73% more likely to say they were planning to leave their companies within three years. A company’s best assets are its people, and if a significant portion of them are getting ready to leave, that’s an emergency that needs your attention.’

Branson also spoke about his concern over the treatment of LGBTI people in Russia and his fears for how that would ultimately affect Russia’s economic standing.

‘Our team at Virgin has noticed that business suffers in nations where discrimination is sanctioned,’ Branson wrote.

‘One country I have watched with increasing concern is Russia … New laws have been introduced to intimidate and persecute gay people. Russian authorities have been denying permits for gay pride parades, and violence and crimes against LGBT Russians are on the rise. Activists have been arrested, and many are leaving the country.

‘Such backward changes are not only morally wrong, but will ultimately hurt even those who put them in place. When people work toward a common goal, they are driven, passionate and purposeful. This translates into harder work and more innovation. Fostering divisions in any group, no matter what the size, is never a productive policy.

‘Nations with discriminatory civil rights policies should recognize their mistakes, address the problems they have caused, and move on. They will likely be far more prosperous if they do so.’

Branson has previously voiced his concern about the passing of new draconian anti-LGBTI laws in Nigeria and Uganda and in 1967 launched a charity called the Student Advisory Center to counsel young people on issues including sex education and sexuality.

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