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Working Girl proves DEI is good for business

Working Girl proves DEI is good for business

Working Girl proves DEI is good for business
20th Century Fox

Melanie Griffith as Tess in Working Girl

The story of a hardscrabble striver demonstrates the benefits of diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging initiatives, writes StartOut CEO Brian Richardson.

“Six thousand dollars? It’s not even leather!”

As a little queer kid, I loved the film Working Girl thanks to iconic lines like this one. But the movie is more than great one-liners. It’s the story of Tess, a hardscrabble secretary played who wanted more out of her professional life and was played flawlessly by Melanie Griffith. Though the doors to the boardroom were slammed firmly in her face, Tess used her ingenuity, stemming from her experience as a working-class woman, to chart her own path and create something better for herself. By the end of the film, she succeeded — and she snagged a young Harrison Ford along the way.

Near the end of the film, the big boss lauds Tess’s success when he shares this story about diverse perspectives: One day, a big rig got stuck in a tunnel, blocking the entrance and backing up traffic for miles. The engineers were confounded in their attempts to get the truck unstuck until a small child in a passing car proffered the simplest of solutions: Let the air out of the tires. The truck was able to drive out. Like Tess, the child brought a fresh perspective, challenged the status quo, and created something better.

Successful companies know that diverse perspectives result in better outcomes because they foster innovation, boost morale, and improve group deliberations and decisions. The recent “Diversity Wins” report, from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, shows how companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams are 36 percent more likely to achieve above-average profitability. Furthermore, the Boston Consulting Group found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19-percentage-point higher revenues due to innovation.

Unfortunately, too many of us are still locked out. In Working Girl, Tess had to hide her real identity to get her first shot. This is still the case for too many LGBTQ+ people.

At StartOut, we focus on helping LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs get their fair shot. Thanks to research from our StartOut Index, we know that more than $2.1 trillion in venture funding has flowed to entrepreneurs in the last 20 years. But only 0.5 percent has gone to companies with an LGBTQ+ founder — even though we are more than 8 percent of the population. And even though we are less likely to get funding, when we do get our shot, we are more likely to succeed: Companies founded by LGBTQ+ people hire more workers, make more money, and enjoy a greater return for investors than those created by straight cisgender peers.

This reality is why so many companies first launched diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives — to ensure that the systemic barriers keeping LGBTQ+ and others on the outside are eliminated. Unfortunately, due to recent political pressures, some companies are scaling back on these programs. According to a 2022 report by the Society for Human Resource Management, 20 percent of organizations reported reducing their DEIB budgets. Glassdoor revealed that mentions of DEIB initiatives in earnings calls and company reports decreased 10 percent from 2021 to 2023.

Moreover, an analysis by Revelio Labs found that DEIB-related roles decreased by 33 percent from the first quarter of 2022 to the same period in 2023. This contraction could erode the progress we have made since Working Girl first graced the silver screen.

If we want everyone to succeed, we can’t shut the door on these vital DEIB initiatives. We must demand that all companies stand up for LGBTQ+ people and diversity. Luckily, there are so many firms, including StartOut’s sponsors, that understand the power of DEIB programs. Not surprisingly, these companies continue to see success. According to the consulting firm Deloitte, companies with inclusive cultures are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

By continuing to show the power of LGBTQ+ ingenuity and innovation in the workplace and the boardroom, we will help every company understand the importance of an inclusive workplace.

Then, just like Tess, we can all get our Hollywood ending.

Brian Richardson is the CEO of StartOut, a nonprofit that empowers LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. Learn more at

This article is part of Out's July/August issue, which hits newsstands on July 2. Support queer media and subscribe— or download the issue through Apple News, Zinio, Nook, or PressReader starting June 18.

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