Tim Cook’s Breath of Fresh Air: Stop Sexual Discrimination

| Editorial

Apple CEO Tim Cook took an open and very public stance on gay, lesbian, and transgender rights over the weekend in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. Setting aside the fact that it's unusual for Apple as a company to take a stance on political issues, its leadership rarely talks openly and Mr. Cook's candid comments are a welcome change in a world where far too many people are quick to discriminate against people with different political, religious, or sexual views.

Tim Cook calls for sexual discrimination protectionTim Cook calls for sexual discrimination protection

Mr. Cook's op-ed piece was a call to action for Congress to support Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a bill that's designed to protect the workplace rights for anyone that doesn't fit in the stereotypical heterosexual framework. If passed, gay, lesbian, and transgender workers will gain the same anti-discrimination protection the Federal Government extends to employees based on gender, race, disability, and religion.

The idea is that all people are created equal and should be treated as such. The unfortunate reality is that people suffer from discrimination and personal or even physical attacks every day simply because of who they are, so we need guidelines in place to help prevent that from happening. In this case, that includes workplace anti-discrimination legislation.

In his op-ed piece, Mr. Cook said,

As we see it, embracing people's individuality is a matter of basic human dignity and civil rights. It also turns out to be great for the creativity that drives our business. We've found that when people feel valued for who they are, they have the comfort and confidence to do the best work of their lives.

In other words, not only is protecting civil rights good for people, it's good for business, too.

Mr. Cook backed up his words with action. Apple has a long standing policy that goes well beyond Federal anti-discrimination laws, and is setting an example for other companies to follow.

What Mr. Cook, and by extension Apple, is saying is that he doesn't care who you are; just be the best person for the job. That's a strong message, and empowering for employees.

For Apple, it means there's a higher likelihood of getting productive and creative work from its staff. In some cases, the hours they spend at Apple every day may be the only time employees aren't facing hateful treatment for simply being who they are.

In this case, Apple represents a model of what we could have instead of what we will need to ensure workers are treated fairly. Apple already has policies in place that promote the idea that everyone deserves to be treated fairly regardless of who they are, but many other companies -- either as a policy or through their corporate culture -- choose a discrimination philosophy, so we're forced to enact laws for protection.

In a country where we already have more laws than anyone can keep track of, we're facing enacting more simply because some people aren't capable of treating people fairly. The better solution would be for people to treat each other as equally regardless of their differences, just as Apple does. The reality is that far too many people are happy treating those that are different with disrespect.

In theory, we shouldn't need any anti-discrimination laws because companies that treat their employees fairly should be able to draw in better workers while companies that discriminate lose talent to jobs in better environments. Over time, businesses see that discrimination hurts them and they change their policies to better compete.

History has shown that, at least in the United States, without Government protection in place, businesses that choose to discriminate rarely find incentive to stop.

Mr. Cook said Apple works hard to make "a safe and welcoming workplace for all employees, regardless of their race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation." Apple isn't alone in its stance because there are many other companies with similar policies. For the others that choose to discriminate based on sexual beliefs and lifestyles, there's a chance that the Government will step in with more regulations.

"Protections that promote equality and diversity should not be conditional on someone's sexual orientation," Mr. Cook said. "For too long, too many people have had to hide that part of their identity in the workplace."

Sexuality is, however, a hot button in U.S. politics and has a way of dividing law makers down party lines. Currently the bill before Congress is seeing strong support from Democrats and strong resistance from Republicans. Should the bill die, the message Congress will send -- intentional or not -- is that sexual discrimination is acceptable.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

5 Comments Leave Your Own

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

In theory, we shouldn’t need any anti-discrimination laws because companies that treat their employees fairly should be able to draw in better workers while companies that discriminate lose talent to jobs in better environments. Over time, businesses see that discrimination hurts them and they change their policies to better compete.

Nobel laureate Gary Becker recognized long, long ago that, in the long run (we’re there now), the most powerful sources of discrimination would not be from firms, but from fellow employees and customers. This blog posting about a cheap shot Joe Stiglitz recently took at Becker is a great intro to the concept.

Jeff, not picking on you, but your paragraph shows the danger of giving lip service to nuanced economic arguments, and dismissing them without acknowledging the nuance. Let’s leave aside the weighty issues of sexual orientation and gender… When I walk into an Apple store, am I a bigot for having a mild but discernible preference for talking to an employee whose face doesn’t look like a pin cushion? Perhaps. But I’m sure it’s more than deliberate that each Apple store appears to provide some public facing employee without 5 javelins through where they epilated his/her eyebrow.

Fellow employees and customers are the real “problems” here, but it’s tough to legislate people hearts. This kind of feel good legislation basically accomplishes nothing.

Lee Dronick

It accomplishes plenty, in a good way.

skipaq

While I wouldn’t argue against all legislation; the net result of multiplying laws and regulations is a loss of freedom. It is not axiomatic that opposing this bill or the death of this bill sends the message that sexual discrimination is acceptable. Apple already has a policy against discrimination without this law. Many companies, probably most, have as well. That is freedom at work.

mrmwebmax

+

While I wouldn’t argue against all legislation; the net result of multiplying laws and regulations is a loss of freedom. It is not axiomatic that opposing this bill or the death of this bill sends the message that sexual discrimination is acceptable. Apple already has a policy against discrimination without this law. Many companies, probably most, have as well. That is freedom at work.

I agree completely. As one with Libertarian beliefs, I would never hold anyone’s gender identity or sexual orientation against them. At the same time, because of those same values, I believe in the right of free association, that people should be free to associate with whom they please, while avoiding those with whom they do not wish to associate.

If an extremely religious organization feels that homosexuality is a sin and against their values, should they be required by law to hire homosexuals? (Note: I feel that such a belief—that homosexuality is a sin—is utter nonsense.) That’s where legislation of this nature really does feel like too much social engineering and an assault on individual liberties.

I agree with everything the legislation stands for, but I don’t agree with it being legislation.

Bart B

Overall a good article Jeff, but I do want to quibble very slightly with this line:

“For the others that choose to discriminate based on sexual beliefs and lifestyles ....”

Your sexual orientation is neither a beleif nor a lifestyle, it’s just a fact of your being, like your height, hair colour, eye-colour etc.. The notion that being gay is just a lifestyle choice is an idea with some nasty baggage, it’s how supposedly religious people justifiy being dicks to their fellow human beings. I know you absolutely didn’t intend that meaning at all - but the phrase caught my eye in a bad way.

To follow up on bosco’s comment about the problem not being policies but fellow employees. I think that misses the obvious point that policies contribute to the culture in a company. If it is OK policy-wise to have a “no gays need apply” policy, then employees feel empowered to bully closested gay employees, because being honest puts them in danger. Having a policy against discrimination is not an instant fix-all, but it does change the landscape dramatically. At the very least if forces the bullies under ground. Their actions are now explicitly against corporate policy, rather than implicitly endorsed by corporate policy.

As a European citizen I am lucky to already have my human right protected in the work place. I can be out at work without problem. I could never work in a place where I had to go back into the closet because I could legally be sacked just for being me.

Log-in to comment