Just over a year ago, nearly 200 CEOs of the country's most influential companies came together as part of the Business Roundtable to set a new standard for corporations. At the time, I applauded as the committee announced the "modernized principles" that leaders should commit to in order to balance the needs of shareholders with customers, employees, suppliers and local communities and "deliver value to all of them."
This is a significant departure from the profit-centric philosophy that came before. For decades, Nobel economist Milton Friedman's view that the role of business is "to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits ...." prevailed. But today's environment, as the Business Roundtable recognized, demands a different approach. A more inclusive approach. And as business leaders, it is clear that we can no longer be on the sidelines.
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From the perspective of LGBTQ+ advocacy, I'm proud that we haven't. Citi, along with hundreds of companies, including some of America's best-known businesses, signed an amicus brief in the recent Supreme Court case, urging the court to find that federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And this past June, the court banned such employment discrimination — a landmark victory for LGBTQ+ employees and allies. And there are certainly other powerful examples of businesses taking a stand for LGBTQ+ equality.
Despite this progress, LGBTQ+ people continue to face rampant challenges. A recent study from the Center for American Progress revealed that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans. And discrimination has real ramifications. A survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality showed that one-third of transgender people reported suffering harassment or denial of service after showing ID with a name or gender marker that didn't match their appearance. In these cases, the answer to what's in a name is, everything.
When I joined Citi as head of U.S. Branded Cards earlier this year and learned about these statistics as part of a forthcoming initiative with Mastercard to offer transgender and non-binary customers the ability to use their chosen first name on our credit cards, I was deeply moved. How devalued I would feel if I wasn't recognized by my name, I thought, and that's as a cisgender woman who doesn't face nearly the same pervasive issues as trans people.
As one of the largest credit card issuers in the country, we had a chance to further this conversation, bring attention to an issue that requires it and offer a solution to help foster recognition, acceptance and empowerment. So this initiative quickly became a rallying cry across all levels of the business. From developing an intricate backend process that includes a customer's chosen name and legal name on the account to help ensure a secure customer experience, to designing and conducting empathy training for thousands of customer service agents, the effort went beyond any one person or department. And I'm proud to say that, since launching in October, we have seen over 5,000 customers update their cards with their chosen first name.
This may seem like a small step, but small steps often have an outsized impact. I was reminded of this when, shortly after we launched the initiative, we received a note on Facebook from one of our customers saying, "I wish that there was something like this when I began my transition. This will remove one of the many worries that we have all had when we were introducing our true selves to the world." Another customer on Twitter remarked: "Our identity is part origin story, part choice, with choice often restricted. @Citi partnering with @Mastercard will offer #transgender & #nonbinary people #TrueName -- the right to use their chosen name on eligible credit cards. Awesome!"
Companies cannot afford to be bystanders. By helping to build more equitable and inclusive cultures, we will do well by doing good. Not only will companies attract the best talent, but they will cultivate satisfied and loyal customers who increasingly will only do business with brands that engage on social issues.
As leaders, we need to stand up and champion initiatives that can drive progress in a meaningful way. Doing good must be ingrained in our business models and go beyond financial support to include donating time, talent, and resources to make a real difference. We all share a responsibility to embody the Business Roundtable's call to put purpose front and center and to align practices with principles.
And if we're lucky, we'll also learn important lessons along the way; I, for one, will never think about a name the same way again.
—By Pam Habner, Head of U.S. Branded Cards, Citi