Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David is scheduled to speak at the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Diversity Council's virtual COLOURS Conference and Pride Awards. Billed as Michigan's No. 1 LGBTQ+ business diversity conference, it features a career fair and many speakers who have been influential to both business and LGBTQ+ acceptance in the state of Michigan. COLOURS runs two days, Thursday and Friday, May 13 through 14, and it will end with an LGBTQ+ career fair. David will speak on Thursday, May 13.
David, who has been president of HRC since 2019 and is the first Black man and first civil rights attorney to hold the post, spoke to Between The Lines ahead of the conference. He was direct about equity's value. "Equity is important to me because I am interested in creating communities and environments that are inclusive and achieve the goals that are outlined by our democracy," David said. "But when you think of corporate equity, for too long people of color and LGBTQ people have been excluded from the
boardrooms of large corporations. We've seen that changing over time but yet we still face bias and indifference in workplaces."
Still, our time, David said, is coming.
"One of the most important things is if we're going to realize the full promise of our democracy is to make sure every single one of us has the opportunity to actively participate and thrive in it. You can't have a successful business that refuses to engage in diversity and inclusion and the values associated with diversity and inclusion," he said. "Most business leaders now understand that there is a legitimate business case to be made for diversity and inclusion."
And it goes beyond merely hiring a few LGBTQ+ people or people of color as employees for one's business, he went on. It's about recognizing diversity's "inherent value."
"That is the principle that I think we're going to be flushing out at the conference," David said.
Ongoing corporate equity measures
David also spoke proudly of HRC's Corporate Equality Index which has, since 2002, rated American businesses on their treatment of LGBTQ+ employees, consumers and investors.
"When the Corporate Equality Index started in 2002 there were very few companies that had inclusive LGBTQ policies. I believe at the time we had 3 percent of 5 percent that were LGBTQ inclusive where they were being ranked at 100 percent," he said. "Today, we have more than 700 that are ranked at 100 percent. They actually have inclusive transgender policies. That is significant for LGBTQ+ people."
He emphasized the Index is much more than a simple score; it's a reliable reference for the equitable practices one can expect at a business that starts from the moment one applies to the moment they are hired and working. He elaborated on why the CEI is as thorough as it is: "Because if you're not being respected for who you are in a business, if your identity is being devalued, it is very difficult for you to actually succeed because the infrastructure doesn't exist to allow you to succeed," David said.
David also mentioned HRC's equity work Blueprint for Positive Change, a policy document HRC prepared for the new administration.
"It has more than 85 policy recommendations," said David. "We identified some priorities in the Blueprint and I'm proud to say the Biden administration has taken an active role in implementing many of those priorities."
Finally, David said he was proud of the recent open letter he sent to corporations calling on them to more actively promote social change. A public statement is nice but it's no longer enough.
"Words matter but so do actions. And as much as we appreciate the statements that have been issued in support of equality we also recognize that actions have an impact as well and, in some cases, a greater impact. So the letter that I issued, the open letter to corporate America, is really asking them, asking business leaders, to all rise up against indifference. We're asking them to not only publicly denounce state legislation that discriminates against marginalized communities including transgender people. But we're asking them to refuse to advance new businesses in states that discriminate as well as refusing to support sporting events where transgender athletes are banned or athletes who take a knee are penalized."
Why are such actions necessary?
"Those actions are necessary because anti-equality extremists need to understand that their actions come with consequences. And they also need to appreciate that there is a disconnect between what they're doing and what the rest of the country actually want us to do. The majority of the public support equality. Two-thirds of the American public oppose these bills that are being advanced in legislatures across the country. So we're asking for corporate leaders to implement their values. Most corporations have values and we want to make sure they back up their values with action. And that's why we issued the letter."
COLOURS Conference Pride Awardees Announced
A crucial part of the COLOURS Conference is the 2021 Pride Awards. Nancy Schlichting, former CEO of Henry Ford Health System, will be presented with the Allan D. Gilmour award for Outstanding Leadership. The annual award is named on behalf of Gilmour, former Vice-Chair and Chief Financial Officer of Ford Motor Company, who supported the LGBTQ+ community for decades through philanthropy and business leadership. The award is given to a leader in the community who has pioneered the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the workplace and in the community.
Additional awardees include Good Cakes and Bakes with the Small Business of the Year award; Henry Ford Health System with the Corporation of the Year award; State of Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist with the Equity Champion of the Year award; and Ford Globe – Ford Motor Company with the Employee Resource Group of the Year award. – Jason A. Michael
To register for the conference, visit colours.vfairs.com. The conference costs $249. Job seekers who would like to only attend the closing career fair can do so for free.