getting diversity right

Sometime around 2010, the employee resource group of LGBT employees at Google (called "Gayglers") was asked to put together a wish list of things we would like Google to do better with respect to its LGBT employees.  This list would be presented to Eric Schmidt, the then-CEO and current Chairman.

Many of us thought this was an odd request, because the company already was on the forefront of treating LGBT employees well.  The company had recently publicly supported and financially contributed to the fight against Prop 8, and a similar measure in Washington state.  But we undertook the task of putting together a list of ten items -- a pie-in-the-sky list.

Once we had the list drawn up, we met with Eric.  For the rest of my life, I will remember him sitting down next to me in this meeting, and more importantly what happened next.

Eric was genuinely interested in our group, and our list.  He said that his interests were in using the company's resources to make small improvements in the lives of a large number of employees, and large, life-changing improvements in the lives of a small number of employees.  

We first thanked Eric for the incredible support Google already gave to the Gayglers and the LGBT community.  We then went through the items on our list.  Unfortunately I don't remember them all, but they included (in no particular order):
  • Extending adoption leave to mirror that of maternity/paternity leave.
  • Having our health insurance cover costs related to gender change procedures.
  • Grossing-up employees for the federal tax consequences of domestic partner health insurance (this later spread to other companies, and was unfortunately referred to as the "gay bonus" - it isn't a bonus, just a reimbursement for the added tax cost of being gay).  
  • Improving the plight of Gayglers in less gay-friendly countries - where being gay may still be illegal, grounds for termination, culturally unacceptable, etc.  I'll never forget that of all the concerns raised, this was the biggest and most important to all of us.
  • Impacting the national discourse on gay rights.
Eric listened to us explain each item, and when we were done, he told us that they would all be implemented.  And they were.

With regard to the national discourse on gay rights, we discussed with Eric the hate that gays are subjected to by publicly visible people.  I will never forget Eric saying in response to this, "These people just need to die."  I turned and raised my eyebrows, and he added "Off.  They just need to die off."  To hear the billionaire CEO and Chairman of a company say that was amazing to me.  Who says stuff like that? Eric tends to.

At the end of our meeting, we presented Eric with one of the Google gay pride t-shirts.  Eric looked at the shirt and said, "I think this might be too tight for me."  The person who presented the shirt winked at Eric flirtatiously and said, "We like them tight."  Eric blushed and laughed.

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