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Why the LGBT movement needs to pledge for parity on International Women’s Day

Why the LGBT movement needs to pledge for parity on International Women’s Day

Lisa 'Lee' Schreter

Today we observe International Women’s Day (IWD) – a celebration of women’s cultural, political, and economic achievements.

This year, we do so conscious of the fact that progress for women has slowed in some regions – meaning that actions are necessary to accelerate gender parity [this year’s IWD theme is #pledgeforparity].

EY , a sponsor of IWD, estimates that at the current rate of progress, it will take 117 years to achieve gender parity – an alarming statistic.

There remain few women role models in the highest echelons of leadership – just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and less than 1% of FTSE 250 CEO slots are held by women.

As a gay woman who serves as chair of the board of directors of the world’s largest labor and employment law firm, I’m keenly aware that very few of these women identify as openly LGBT. The Financial Times publishes an annual list of the world’s leading LGBT executives; and in 2015 only 24% of the list were women.

As we observe IWD, I want to take the opportunity to underline the fact that gender parity is an important goal not just for companies, or for society at large, but also for the LGBT movement.

This is one important reason why I am supporting and participating in OutWOMEN, Out Leadership’s initiative connecting and supporting senior-level LGBT women in business.

By connecting successful LGBT women executives to each other, and through an exchange of experiences and insights, I am confident that we can assist organizations in their efforts to foster environments where women in business feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work – whether gay or straight.

The need for diverse role models

When employees have to hide their identities at work, their engagement suffers by up to 30% compared to their counterparts. Closeted and isolated LGBT employees are 73% more likely to say they intend to leave their company in the next three years. Inclusion drives productivity and retention.

That’s one reason why forward-looking companies have worked so hard to achieve LGBT inclusiveness.

LGBT leaders bring the diversity of their experiences to bear in their workplaces, which in turn strengthens these companies. And their presence at the top of an organization allows them to serve as powerful role models – helping employees feel safe, included, and motivated to do their best work.

I believe that inclusivity at the top can create a more ambitious workforce, and a more competitive company.

Openly LGBT women who have risen to the top of global companies have overcome considerable obstacles. Many have faced stigma, open discrimination and inadequate workplace protections.

Some have faced discrimination on the basis of their gender and sexual orientation. LGBT women of color face higher rates of discrimination because of their multiple identities.

Martine Rothblatt talks gender parity with TED's Chris Anderson in March 2015
Martine Rothblatt, founder of Sirius XM and United Therapeutics – and reportedly the highest paid female executive in the US – in conversation with TED’s Chris Anderson in March 2015

In helping to found OutWOMEN last month, Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics, noted: ‘There’s a real dearth of institutional and organizational support for successful LGBT women in business; OutWOMEN addresses a clear and present need.

‘The women it will serve have unique opportunities and challenges as a result of their shared identities and experiences, and I’m delighted and honored to have the opportunity to help guide the initiative forward. It is an awesome mission.’

By participating in OutWOMEN, my goal is to connect with other LGBT women executives, and also bring their many achievements to light.

Our colleagues and fellow executives, the next generation of LGBT businesswomen, and the world at large should know more about these women and their strength, courage, grit and achievements.

When business leaders see the important business impact that openly LGBT women leaders have, perhaps more LGBT women will be given the opportunity, and the resources necessary, to lead. And, step by step, we will work to increase gender parity around the world.

Lee Schreter is chairperson of the Board of Directors of Littler, the world’s largest labor and employment law firm and also co-chairs its Wage and Hour Practice. Lee represents employers in complex class litigation. In 2015, Lee was named by The National Law Journal as one of its Outstanding Women Lawyers.


Martine Rothblatt image: