Illustration by Victoria Borges
Sam McClure has a message: The bottom line gets bigger when a workplace is open to inclusion and diversity. McClure, vice president with the Washington, D.C.-based National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, shares that message with businesses large and small across the country. She describes the chamber as the economic voice of the LGBT community, and the advocacy group for the nation’s 1.4 million LGBT business owners. The chamber in January released a report, “America’s LGBT Economy,” which states that LGBT-certified businesses in 2015 created 33,000 jobs in the United States and had a $1.15 billion impact on the national economy. McClure discussed the ways businesses are adapting diversity and inclusion into office culture.
Richmond Magazine: What is the state of diversity of in the workplace across the nation?
Sam McClure: I think there has been incredible progress, particularly in moving from thinking about diversity only in terms of numbers and moving into working on real inclusion. There is difference among people. The art of real inclusion is creating a culture where those different voices, perspectives and experiences are valued and engaged. Every business needs to have a full spectrum of diverse thought, talent and vision. I am hopeful we can maintain the momentum of progress even in a political landscape that is more and more divisive. Business can and should lead the way!
RM: Are there any particular examples in Virginia, and in Richmond in particular, of a business or businesses that get it right?
McClure: Well I’m particularly proud of (the chamber’s) locally headquartered corporate partner, Capital One. I’d also point to the top 30 companies recognized by the National Business Inclusion Consortium as the Best of The Best. (The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber) founded the (consortium) in 2012 and the members are the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce, The U.S. Black Chambers, U.S. Business Leadership Network, Disability at Work, The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and We Connect International. These diverse groups work closely together because we all realize that inclusion will not be meaningful if we leave anyone behind. Our economy is strongest when we ensure that ALL people have a seat at the table. The Best of the Best companies are leaders in inclusion across all diverse communities.
RM: What are the characteristics of businesses that celebrate diversity and inclusiveness?
McClure: I think a highly collaborative culture is a common indicator. It requires deep employee engagement and that’s a consistent result of valuing all diverse perspectives. Another characteristic is a strong bottom line. Inclusion isn’t a “feel good” program from the HR department; it’s a path to building a strong sustainable business model that is effective and profitable.
RM: What is diversity of thought, and how open are businesses to new ideas and thinking?
McClure: Diversity of thought is an environment that welcomes all perspectives and points of view expressed with the intent of moving the organization forward. Smart business leaders surround themselves with other smart people. They actively listen; they welcome questions, suggestions and even disruption if it’s in the best interest of the business.
RM: How does a business go about promoting diversity of thought?
McClure: It can be as simple as being consistently open as a leader and expecting that others at all levels of leadership are, too.
RM: What about smaller businesses? How open are they to inclusiveness and in reflecting all backgrounds and abilities in the workplace?
McClure: It’s harder to measure this, however, in my experience advocating for small business owners, I see many that are doing a great job. The vast majority of jobs come from the small business sector and I think the businesses that grow the fastest and are the most sustainable are those that are inclusive and create highly engaged cultures.
RM: You’re a longtime advocate for business equality for all people. How open are businesses to your message?
McClure: In my experience businesses are very open. Inclusion is simply a business imperative and the smart leaders know it.
RM: What challenges do you face?
McClure: I think the biggest challenge I face is to continue to teach and lead in an environment where very divisive behaviors and messages are constantly being amplified in media and social media. It would be revolutionary if we simply made a commitment to amplify messages and behavior that will bring us together as people. This nation is a lab. We make mistakes and learn and grow, that’s natural. We should focus on when we get it right and amplify that!