Good for business: The corporate crusade for same-sex marriage

AFR 26TH AUGUST 2015 Roger Corbett Fairfax Chairman at Fairfax Pyrmont office. exit interview with Mike Smith and Elizabeth Knight. Photo by Louise Kennerley afr SEXPOL : Allan Joyce CEO of Qantas hugs Mada Szubanski on the stage to celebatre the YES vote at Prince Alfred Park, Sydney the verdic of the postal vote on same sex marriage is YES in every state, on 15 November 2017. Photo: Jessica Hromas
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At last the n community can take a moment to feel warm and positive about business leadership.

Large corporations that are more familiar with being pilloried by their customers and staff have demonstrated they are capable of being a force for good.

They have experienced difficulty in gaining traction on a range of issues like tax cuts, but have emerged as the moral crusaders successfully pushing for the ‘yes’ vote on same-sex marriage.

It’s fair to say business – in particular many large corporations – have used their reach and muscle to spearhead the move to the reform the unpopular, antiquated and discriminatory laws prohibiting marriage of same-sex couples.

The push from corporates did carry some risk – one only needs to read online comments on news websites following the announcement of the success of the ‘yes’ vote to see the vows from individuals that they would never fly Qantas again. Its chief executive Alan Joyce was easily the most vocal ‘yes’ campaigner among the ranks of chief executives.

Joyce told me on Wednesday that apart from anything else, Qantas had a big LGBTI workforce. He pointed to research showing 80 per cent of people want to work for a company that is socially responsible and that companies generally “need to play a role in society, have a social conscience and be about more than making money”.

He also said that he was aware that companies that had been vocally supportive of same-sex marriage had been pressured by the ‘no’ campaigners.

(By the way, Virgin and in particular its founder Richard Branson also supported the ‘yes’ campaign, so domestic travellers who want to ban socially progressive airlines will need to fill up their car tanks.)

Companies who stuck their necks out supporting the ‘yes’ vote had to contend with being brow-beaten by the likes of conservative Liberal politician Peter Dutton, who told them to get on with fixing their businesses and keep their noses out of wider social issues. Odds on he wouldn’t have been telling them that if they had got behind the ‘no’ campaign.

While not all businesses joined the ‘yes’ campaign, those that didn’t stayed silent rather than join the ‘no’ lobby. Former Woolworths chief (and Christian) Roger Corbett was the only high-profile businessman to voice his objection publicly.

For the most part, big businesses ignored what we now know was the minority of ns and followed their conscience and their belief that a ‘yes’ vote would be good for the economy.

The very notion that companies and in particular large companies with large workforces have no business advocating for social reform misunderstands the importance of their wider responsibilities to the community – to say nothing of the resources they can deploy to achieve positive progressive outcomes.

People expect business to take an ethical social role around climate change, gender equality and diversity, give special consideration for hardship customers, and involve themselves with philanthropic causes.

Marriage equality is another social issue on which corporate was right to take a lead. Indeed business read the mood of the public more accurately than politicians, who have been too afraid of internal party backlash to resolve the issue in the most appropriate and least painful way of simply putting it before parliament.

While corporates should be congratulated for their same-sex marriage lobbying, they will the first to admit that it’s good for business and the economy.

In the first instance, companies recognise that to employ staff that feel disgruntled or discriminated against hinders productivity and limits their potential.

In a joint letter from business leaders sent to the prime minister earlier this year, the signatories – including the heads of Telstra, Westpac, AGL, Commonwealth Bank and Wesfarmers and the Business Council of – expressed this point.

‘It is good for our employees,” the letter read. “People are a company’s most important asset. Supporting marriage equality helps n companies attract, nurture and retain the very best and the brightest people.

“All employees should have the opportunity to perform to their full potential and a high performance culture requires employees to feel comfortable in their workplace and their lives.’

The same letter supported marriage equality on the basis that it was good for the companies’ relationship with customers – in short, a good marketing move.

‘In the globally competitive marketplace, customers are becoming more discerning and are selecting products and services from companies that better represent their values.’

Among the list of almost 1000 companies that signed up to support the ‘yes’ campaign there are plenty of big customer-facing businesses – the major telcos, banks big and small, and a plethora of retailers from Myer and David Jones to JB Hi Fi, H&M and General Pants.

Business leaders rightly argued that being an inclusive nation was good for ‘s global reputation and helps attract international talent and foreign investment – both of which are critical to being globally competitive.

“Corporate social responsibility is becoming a critical factor to a growing number of global investors and the capital markets,” they said in their letter to the prime minister.

In a more immediate sense, Alan Joyce says there are hundreds of millions of dollars ready to be spent on gay weddings. And of course, for Qantas, there will be all those domestic and overseas airfares for the honeymoons.

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