The Supreme Court's Ruling on LGBTQ+ Workplace Protections Could Help Revitalize the Entire Economy
A conversation with StartOut executive director Andres Wydler on how the landmark decision is the beginning of a new era in inclusive innovation.
Andres Wydler couldn't help but feel like celebrating after the Supreme Court ruled decisively that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act encompassed workplace protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. It was more than just a symbolic victory for the executive director of StartOut, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that, per its mission statement, aims "to increase the number, diversity and impact of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and amplify their stories to drive the economic empowerment of the community." It was a federally insured guarantee that business professionals and human beings across the spectrum of sexual preference and gender identity can advance their careers and personal aspirations without prejudice.
Nevertheless, Wydler knows there is a long way to go before StartOut achieves its interrelated objectives of positioning LGBTQ+ innovators for success and opening the aperture of what we envision for our collective entrepreneurial future.
Speaking happily from his office in California mere hours after SCOTUS's ruling, Wydler reflects on the court's consequential affirmation while offering some concrete advice for all leaders about how to move forward in a spirit of utter allyship.
In the immediate sense, how does this level the playing field for both LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and workers and employees?
First of all, it legitimizes who we are. That's a qualitative difference from before that cannot be overstated. Obviously, workers have additional legal protections, but for LGBTQ entrepreneurs and their environment, not that much has changed just yet, but we're starting from a different baseline, which is equality and protections rather than sanctioned discrimination. That said, workplace protections don't automatically give you access to the resources you need, so we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. But it's still a great day for a celebration.
Does it feel as if this enables the pipeline of eventual LGBTQ+ leaders to open up more freely?
The inspiration has just gotten a lot easier. We still need role models, but at minimum — being respected as equal under the law of the land — these are fundamental cultural changes. Self-selection will be affected by this decision.
What are your feelings about the dissenting arguments from three of the justices?
Equality benefits all. We're for the economic empowerment of all minorities, including our black and brown members. They want to help kickstart the economy post-COVID-19, so what an absurd notion to leave a whole group of able, passionate people out who want to contribute to the economy as a whole. What an absurd notion to try and perpetuate unequal access to prevent the empowerment of that community who wants to do it for the benefit of all. It makes no sense.
In effect, the pandemic should be a call to action to welcome any and all innovators onto the front lines of getting our economy going again.
What an amazing opportunity — not that I'm happy about the reason for the opportunity — to take dark times and allow, encourage, motivate and support everyone who wants to help make it happen. And in the process, economically empower opportunities that have been underserved.
What we are we missing out on as a culture and as consumers when we're not more inclusive of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurialism?
We're leaving out innovation. We're leaving out jobs. We're leaving money on the table — very measurable metrics of progress. If not everyone gets a seat at the table, you're missing out on opportunities, and we can ill-afford that at this point. It's also a sheer numbers game. A lot of opportunities wouldn't have been created were it not for minorities. Go back to Alan Turing, who helped win the second World War. We have amongst our 17,000 members countless innovators who deserve support and then create businesses that would not have been created otherwise. I'm not talking mom-and-pop shops, which are also wonderful of course. I'm talking about true innovation that is unique and brings our economy forward.
It seems like there's an obvious overlap between the LGBTQ+ push for equality and what's happening with Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd's death: going beyond retraining and reform and uprooting biases.
Absolutely. Who says people have to be retrained to come up with ideas? What about: Let them do their work, support them in it and see what sticks? I see a need to support people where appropriate regardless of who they love or the color of their skin. If we let all of those bubble to the top, then the fittest will survive, and that's how it should be.
At the risk of asking you to explain best practices to cisgender or heterosexual leaders, how can well-meaning founders and owners go beyond rhetoric to advance the agenda you're advocating for?
Actions speak louder than words. A lot of people have been very cautious in embracing allyship. So let people prove that they're serious about systemic change. Only systemic change will lead to true improvements. We believe the economic empowerment of our community is a systemic change where we can have a major impact. We've been doing this for 10 years, and we're going to be doing it another 10 or as long as it takes. But let people be judged by their actions, and let's hold them accountable for those actions.
What's a concrete action one of those allies can take this very moment?
Affiliate yourselves with a group that is serious about economic empowerment or support of entrepreneurs and get engaged. That means you can be a mentor. If you are an investor, make sure you look at all opportunities coming your way. Reach out to groups from which you traditionally haven't seen much deal flow. Simply share expertise and be there for someone in an online forum or on some networks that are out there. Attend local events to support your local community, of whatever ilk. Go out there, be part of the community and bring your skills into your volunteering activity, so that as a whole we are increasing the level of professionalism for all our entrepreneurs.
Is it exhausting to have to constantly reiterate this advice to non-minority professionals?
Not at all. It's rewarding. We want systemic change. Every time we get someone to help someone else with marketing advice or open up a business-development opportunity, we've made a difference. Most people want to do the right thing but don't know how. We have an opportunity to show them how, so we'd be thrilled to explain it 1,000 times and then some.
With this ruling codified, what's the next major mountain to climb?
The dissenting opinion mentioned something about Congress doing its job, so two things: One is Congress needs to do its job, and the laws need to change. But fundamentally, the most important thing is that society should simply recognize that everyone can contribute to the well-being of the United States economy. The more examples we show of diverse business leaders, diverse entrepreneurs doing their part to better the lives of everyone, the more powerful we will be. It behooves all of us in the nonprofit and for-profit world to foster those examples, nurture them and publicize the heck out of them to make sure people realize: Yeah, discrimination isn't really worth it, is it?