M.V. Lee Badgett, UMass Amherst economics professor and director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration, writes a column in the online New York Times about how President Obama could stop workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation for companies doing business with the federal government by issuing an executive order. She argues that such a move would underline the president’s commitment to non-discrimination and would be a sound business practice for contractors who would see improved production and less workplace strife. (New York Times, 2/6/12)
In the past, executive orders setting standards for contractors have not only put an American ideal of equal opportunity into practice; they have also helped show employers that ending discrimination is good for business. Employers who act out of bias waste valuable training and often pass over the best person for the job. In the case of gay and transgender workers, workplace discrimination comes with an added cost to employers, leading other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers to fear disclosure and contributing to stress, illness and lower productivity.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence that nondiscrimination policies are good business policy comes from businesses themselves. A recent Williams Institute study of the 50 largest federal contractors and the 50 biggest Fortune 500 companies found that nearly all had policies against sexual orientation discrimination, and almost all said that diversity was good for business. They also described their policies against sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination as a sound business decision, resulting in more productive and loyal employees, more good ideas and a stronger customer base. That means the federal government and American taxpayers get more efficient contractors, whether for designing software applications or supporting troops in Afghanistan.
Requiring federal contractors not to discriminate against workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity lets the American public win twice — as taxpayers and as workers. New research of mine shows that by issuing an executive order, President Obama could cover more than 16 million additional workers against discrimination. Following the legacy of almost every president since World War II and the lead of most of the nation’s top companies, the president should once again put our government on the side of equal opportunity for all.