Working culture: How openness, respect and fairness create merit orientation by Jens Schadendorf

By Guest Contributor Jens Schadendorf

Author of GaYme Changer, Jens Schadendorf, explains why business leaders need to push for LGBT+ diversity and inclusion to serve their bottom line.



Some months ago, while I was researching my book GaYme Changer, a middle-aged male executive at a US-based global corporate told me, “Sometimes, I sense a ‘diversity and inclusion fatigue’ – and at the same time I think we should double or even triple our D&I endeavors. That means more money, more people, more time, better arguments.”

Regarding demands from the top to increase the number of women, people of color or members of other marginalized or underrepresented groups such as LGBT+ people in leadership positions, he reported increasing water cooler conversations revealing skepticism, even more or less covert rejection. Mostly the argument was that such a strategy lacked merit-orientation.

While this may seem to make sense, the opposite is true. Why?



For some years now, practice-oriented research has emphasized that a working climate embracing diversity of all kinds is beneficial for companies. In concrete terms, it sees this working climate – at least to a large extent – as an expression of a specific culture that relies not on negative egalitarianism but on positive respect and recognition for people as they are, as individuals, with all the facets they identify with, their self-perceptions, talents, and skills.

In a culture with such an open working climate, no one is excluded, stigmatized, discriminated against, or preferred, whether on the basis of their gender, age, ethnicity/race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Everyone experiences inclusivity and can therefore exist and work undisguised, expressing their true, authentic selves.

In an open, inclusive working climate understood this way, with not just formal but lived equal rights for all, there is no hiding, no “minority stress”, no “stress about belonging to an underrepresented group,” no “emotional tax” – causing reduced wellbeing and increased health problems and, hence, high individual, economic and social cost and reduced productivity.

Instead there are equal opportunities for everyone to make something of themselves and contribute to the company and its success. An open, inclusive working climate and culture thus supports individual performance, leading to better company performance and to justice and fairness at the same time.

In view of this argument, the business case and the human rights or moral case for D&I are thought of together. The LGBT+ turnaround by Italian pasta primus Barilla I referred to in a previous blog  – a truly comprehensive D&I turnaround – exemplifies this kind of business approach, reflected not least in Barilla CEO Claudio Colzani’s very visibly featured D&I statement: “Our diversity and inclusion journey starts with the recognition that supporting diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do and it is also good for business.”



Also, given the talent, skills, and potential of all employees, including women, LGBT+ people, people of color and other underrepresented groups, companies not working towards equal rights and opportunities simply cannot claim to be truly merit-based. They only pretend to be.

But what would a company be in today’s modern dynamic economy without credible merit-focused rules, working climate, and culture? Companies have to rely on merit as a guiding principle for hiring, retaining, framing career development, and paying salaries and bonuses. And they have to promise this merit-focus to ensure competitiveness, setting expectations that their promise will be fulfilled.

That’s especially important today since, as many studies show, the younger generations are paying more and more attention to how credible and fair companies are – to the societies and communities in which they operate and to their treatment of every individual, no matter their true self.

So, what if talented, ambitious, hard-working employees belonging to underrepresented or marginalized groups wanted to seize their promised, merit-based (equal) opportunities – whether in terms of function, company division, hierarchical level, or career goal – and were denied? What if they found that the promise of being merit-based was, effectively, a lie? What if, for example, LGBT+ people found that the prevailing working culture did not encourage them to come out or that after they did, “suddenly” the next career step was delayed – despite their merits as employees? In such circumstances, they would walk away or be less productive and perform more poorly – and thus an employee able to add value would have been lost. And, increasingly, many straight allies would be repelled by such a company too.

From this perspective, on the organizational level there is an inseparable link between diversity, an open, inclusive working climate and culture, equal rights and opportunities, credible merit-orientation and productivity.



Merit-orientation as a key argument for enhancing fairness is still not much present in companies’ D&I and leadership discourses. This really surprises me. Companies and their leaders should be aware of this argument and work with it – in their strategies, tools, speeches, and more. The “diversity and inclusion fatigue” mentioned by the executive, can be overcome. What did he also say? “I think we should double or even triple our D&I endeavors. That means more money, more people, more time, better arguments.”


JENS SCHADENDORF is an economist, author and keynote-speaker on topics related to diversity and inclusion (D&I), primarily LGBT+ D&I, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and leadership. He also advises companies, scientists, and managers on book projects globally and consults on communications, change, and CSR matters. Alongside this, he is also an independent LGBT+ diversity researcher at the Chair of Business Ethics at the Technical University of Munich, Germany.



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The LGBT+ community has experienced a stunning development in a short period of time: yesterday marginalized, stigmatized, and criminalized, now champions of creativity, diversity and innovation in a highly competitive world. In addition, corporate social responsibility and ethical demands for inclusivity have become economic directives that every organization would like to attain. The struggle of recognition is not over yet, but in workplaces and markets, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer individuals have become symbols of diversity and economic power – true GaYme Changers developing the global economy faster and for the better.

Illustrated by fascinating stories around individuals, companies, nonprofits and a fast-growing cohort of organizations, Jens Schadendorf has traced the LGBT+ community and an increasing number of their allies from across the globe to discover the start of a revolution. Supported by up-to-date research, he shows that investment in LGBT+ inclusion delivers a powerful return. Always – even in times of hostility, resistance and crisis – it is economically and ethically beneficial for companies and societies and every human being, to let LGBT+ members develop into dynamic forces, rooted in new forms of cooperation and learning for ga(y)me changing results.

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