By William Donius

There is a mostly invisible but significant minority present in workplaces across the country. The gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered group is mostly invisible because many choose not to be “out” at work. They may not feel comfortable proclaiming their sexual orientation or identity for fear of reprisal.

This is unfortunate, but remains a reality in many parts of the country. If an organization is not particularly diverse or open to diversity, it is more likely that those who are different will attempt to hide who they are.

Research shows that when employees do not feel valued, they feel distracted and spend more time conducting non-work related activities, including searching for other jobs. People generally don’t give 100 percent when they don’t feel 100 percent comfortable.

Conversely, when employees feel valued and respected, they are much more likely to be engaged and thereby put forth their best efforts on the company’s behalf. Leadership that inspires, rather than rules, motivates employees. Employees are able to quickly differentiate a culture of inclusion from one of exclusion. This is precisely why embracing a diverse workplace is important.

Employees will connect the dots to conclude that an organization that chooses to operate in a progressive manner, demonstrating equality by employing those with diverse backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities, is one that truly values each person’s individual contribution. Therefore, all employees are more likely to feel welcome, accepted, valued and respected within the organization. Most of us have diverse elements within our backgrounds or families. Embracing this makes for a much better climate.

I learned in my 30 years in various workplaces and varying industries that an organization is only as strong as its weakest link. A company may be spending a lot on advertising and marketing, however, money may be wasted if its employees don’t take pride in the company and work to enhance the company’s results. If morale is poor, employees may reduce sales. There is a study by the Human Rights Campaign that shows that 56 percent of workers are disengaged at work. Further, 15 percent of this group is “actively disengaged.”

Organizations that find ways to connect with their employees and thereby lower these percentages will certainly compete more effectively against their competitors.

One sure way to improve morale in a company is to treat each employee with respect. This means recognizing them for who they are as individuals, valuing their input, and making them feel welcome in the organizational family. In my years as CEO of a bank, I ensured that we placed a high value on each of these elements. The net effect was very positive. We were able to dramatically lower turnover, boost retention and increase job satisfaction. In fact, we were voted, “The Best Place to Work in St. Louis” in 2007 by the St. Louis Business Journal for medium-sized companies.

The old saying is true: take care of your people and profits will be taken care of. We were able to become one of the top performing banks as rated by SNL Financial in 2008 while taking care of employees and customers. It is a myth that if you take care of shareholders, employees have to accept the additional burden.

It is vital to do more than just pay lip service to the notion of treating employees with respect. An organization must ensure by its actions that it is able to give voice to the individual. This can be accomplished by a number of tools that ensure that an organization is receiving input and feedback at each level of the organization.

Examples include an employee morale committee, a social events committee, Q+A events with the CEO (that are unscripted), and interdepartmental committees that focus on process improvement within the organization.

Creating dialogue on a topic is a healthy way of continuing progress, and an important step in emphasizing the importance of diversity in the workplace.
Donius is a former CEO and chairman of Pulaski Bank. He was appointed to a two-year term on the U.S. Federal Reserve Board TIAC Council in 2008 and served a four-year term on the Board of Directors of America’s Community Bankers ending in 2007.
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