Most businesses don’t experience negative backlash for their efforts at inclusion and protections for all employees. However, it is important to handle negative responses in a consistent and thorough manner. Stay on message:
Negative Reactions to Policies
Aren’t you trying to change people’s beliefs?
No, all we’re saying is that we value and respect all employees and want them to feel safe at work.
When announcing benefits for domestic partners, it is important to state clearly that the policies are designed to foster an atmosphere of fairness and professional respect at work, and not to change personal values. Domestic partner benefits are a business imperative, a tool for attracting and keeping the best employees and a means of improving employee productivity. If an LGBTQ employee resource or affinity group exists at your organization, make sure to utilize the group to inform your employees that the benefits exist.
Be straightforward about the tax implications so as to avoid confusion, and if there are any major discrepancies in benefits between opposite-sex spouses and same-sex partners, be clear about why the disparity exists and how that might change in the future. The most important aspect of this process is for the employee to feel valued and that they can trust that the employer will do the right thing.
Negative Reactions to Legislative Activity
- The position supports the company’s overall diversity philosophy.
- The legislation is in line with the company’s corporate values.
- The legislation will create a level playing field that will help all business succeed.
- The legislation will improve productivity and drive recruitment and retention of dedicated, fair-minded employees.
- The position reinforces our reputation as a workplace where all individuals are treated fairly.
Mitigating Negative Reactions to LGBTQ Initiatives
- Timing: Avoid making announcements prior to major business events that would provide a public forum for dissent. For example, Cummins Inc. announced the addition of domestic partner benefits three weeks before its annual shareholder meeting, thereby providing a public platform to express grievances against the company. While this may not be an issue for some employers, timing should always be considered.
- Register every domain name that includes your company’s name, any of its products names and the word “boycott.” Also, set up separate public email accounts for all SVP’s or senior leaders, especially for the CEO and leaders in public relations, customer relations, government relations and investor relations.
- Develop a strong partnership with non-profit organizations in your field or sector. These groups will be aware of the opposition’s previous actions and can help develop a response to potential criticisms. In addition, partner organizations can utilize their well-developed communication experience to advise if and when to respond, depending on the media climate and desired outcome.
- Obtain senior-level support and prepare leadership for potential negative reactions. Adequate preparation will make managing a negative reaction easier and will help prevent damage to the business’ reputation.
Questions to Ask When Responding to Negative Reactions
Consider how your subsequent response to a negative reaction will be viewed by all parties, in the short- and long-term. Employers are steadfastly and rapidly making changes to include LGBTQ employees, you will not be the only one.
- Is what is being expressed in-line with your company’s stated values? What are the corporate values statements that are relevant to this position? What has been the company’s position historically? What will a change mean to supporters of LGBTQ inclusion? Opponents? Has the company taken a position on LGBTQ inclusion in the past? How important is that to the company’s future image?
- Who is responsible for this action? Is it temporary? How much effort are organizations likely to devote? Track the origin of emails sent to your company. Are they coming from a single source? Are they uniquely written or form emails? If all of the emails are essentially the same, it implies that very few people feel strongly enough to write their own comments and may simply be following an automated point-and-click campaign.
- What will drive the long-term reaction of consumers? How does your position impact market share?
- Are you the first company to do this? The first in a particular industry? Where are our peers? How are you compared to our peers on the issue in question? Are you where we want to be in this class? Is there value in being a leader? Is there a business benefit in this distinction?
- What are the concerns of employees regarding the issue? How are those concerns being voiced by any given group? Are those concerns in accordance with company values?
- What is the potential for shareholder concerns to be voiced? Does this add shareholder value?
- Once the immediate impact has subsided, assess what lessons can be gleaned the experience. Would different messaging have better mitigated the response? Were employee resources groups informed and empowered to spread your company’s message?