Small businesses have known for years that building your company with a set of core values is essential to longevity in the market. Customers are loyal when they feel valued for who they are and what they care about. For many years the LGBTQ community served each other, until other small businesses broadened their values to welcome the gays. And within the past couple decades the “gay dollar” has even inspired less values motivated companies to expand their brand to include our community.
Similar to this rise of the gay dollar is the rise of the conscious consumer. Conscious consumers are a response to the poor environmental practices that corporations have used to maximize their short-term returns. This movement holds many parallels for the LGBTQ community. After years of grassroots effort there are a plethora of ways to tout greener practices like organic, corporate social responsibility, and green building. And, as consumers have learned more about these issues, most companies have increasingly had to go beyond “green washing” their products to prove real commitment and positive results in their environmental impact. Just as small businesses learned before them, their values are now inextricably tied to long-term value creation.
Now a growing majority of corporations are going beyond pride parade floats to include the LGBTQ community in their operations, marketing, and even their shareholder relations. One of the most telling examples is the recent Starbucks shareholder meeting where CEO Howard Schultz described to an activist shareholder that Starbucks’ endorsement of marriage equality wasn’t about making money, but about the principle of diversity. Schultz went on to say, “if you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.” In my view he ‘came out’ with that statement, as a man and company whose values are not fleeting or passive. I believe this stand taken for diversity is part of a tipping point toward the full intersection of values and value creation in business.
There is still a ways to go, and not all news of corporate action makes me smile, but this step by Starbucks and so many others to connect their value of diversity to their corporate identity is a big indicator of the future our small businesses predicted.
By Gerod Rody, Founder of OUT for Sustainability.