Guest Post: Gianforte’s Brand of Discrimination Unwise for Business

“I’m running because I want my kids and grandkids around the dinner table on Sunday afternoon…. Yet with Montana 50th nationally in wages for young people, our kids continue to be our most precious export.” Greg Gianforte’s focus on low wages misses a more basic question: does he think young Montanans feel safe and welcome in their own state? Many young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Montanans do not.

Whereas other states have passed employment non-discrimination acts (ENDAs), Montana has not passed such a measure. State-wide, only state employees and contractors have protections from discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender, due to executive order. Non-discrimination ordinances protect residents of Missoula, Bozeman, and Butte. Helena’s ordinance is weak because it excludes transgender people. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Montanans in the private sector and outside those four cities are vulnerable to employment discrimination.

Gianforte thinks the ability to discriminate is a positive good. When Bozeman was considering its non-discrimination ordinance, he wrote to the mayor and commissioners that “Homosexual advocates try to argue that businesses are leery of locating in towns that aren’t friendly to homosexuals…. I believe the opposite is truer.” Bozeman was wise not to heed his counsel.

In addition to being immoral, his assertion that allowing discrimination fosters a healthy business climate is at odds with published research. A Management Science study summarized in Harvard Business Review found that ENDAs increased innovation because they attract creative people. According to authors Huasheng Gao and Wei Zhang, “Those who are more likely to be pro-LGBT tend to be younger, better educated, more open-minded… traits that correlate with higher creativity.” They noted that “firms headquartered in states that passed ENDAs experienced an 8% increase in the number of patents and an 11% increase in the number of patent citations, relative to firms headquartered in states that did not pass such a law.” In addition, “inventors who move in tend to produce 30% more patents than the inventors moving out.”

If businesses are chasing innovators, why would they move to unwelcoming towns in Montana? People who feel welcome rather than hated are more productive. This is why Amazon, Google, and Microsoft saw the wisdom in protecting everyone in their talent pool, not just straight, cisgender people. Accordingly, they and many other tech companies fought against gender bias and drove change nationally. For Mr. Gianforte to part company with the tech industry like this raises real questions about his business acumen, to say nothing of his ethics.

Adrian Cohea is a programmer serving the people of Montana. One can find him running on the streets of Helena by night.

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