Why the business community is fueling the backlash in Indiana

At the Chamber of Commerce we are often asked what is the secret behind our city’s — and the Bay Area’s — economic success.

The answer is found in two words: diversity and inclusiveness.

Diversity in thought, background and mindset helps to fuel innovation and avoids groupthink. Inclusiveness is the creation of an environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

What we are seeing unfolding in Indiana is exactly the opposite of the values of diversity and inclusiveness that we, as a region, hold dear. And it explains, in part, the backlash by the business community to the so-called religious freedom law signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence that we believe could lead to discrimination against gays, lesbians and other individuals.

The Gap, Levi Strauss & Co., Salesforce, Square, Apple, Twitter and Yelp are among the local companies to publicly condemn the legislation. We applaud these and other forward-thinking companies along with Mayor Ed Lee and San Francisco State University President Leslie Wong, who have both made strong personal statements against what amounts to legalized discrimination.

Smart organizations embrace diversity and inclusiveness as core business values. Scott McCorkle, CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, in a letter warned the Indiana Legislature that the bill threatens future growth in Indiana.

“Our success is fundamentally based on our ability to attract and retain the best and most diverse pool of highly skilled employees, regardless of gender, religious affiliation, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” McCorkle wrote.

The chamber, along with many businesses, has long supported the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. Just last month, the chamber signed on to legal arguments urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn state bans on marriage equality, arguing that equal treatment improves morale and productivity.

For the business community, what is at stake in Indiana is not all about business.

“These new laws and legislation, that allow people and businesses to deny service to people based on their sexual orientation, turn back the clock on equality and foster a culture of intolerance,” Gap Inc. CEO Art Peck, and Levi Strauss President and CEO Chip Bergh said in a joint statement. “Discriminatory laws are unquestionably bad for business, but more importantly, they are fundamentally wrong. They must be stopped.”

The Chamber of Commerce, representing more than 1,500 businesses, stands in support of values and practices that embrace diversity and inclusion.

By Bob Linscheid

Bob Linscheid is President and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. 

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on April 1, 2015.