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Here's Qantas CEO Alan Joyce's powerful argument on the value of marriage equality to business

Photo: Charles McQuillan/ Getty Images.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. Photo: Getty / Greg Wood

The marriage equality debate in Australia has reignited on the back of Ireland’s landslide Yes vote in its referendum on constitutional recognition of same-sex marriage.

The renewed momentum has seen some of the country’s most prominent businesses and personalities have been joining the push for Australia to recognise same-sex marriage.

Just last week companies ranging from Google, Qantas and Optus, to PwC and the Commonwealth bank put their names to a list of Australian businesses backing marriage equality in a full-page newspaper advertisement.

Other businesses among the supporters are law firms Slater and Gordon and Gilbert and Tobin, and the Football Federation of Australia.

Since then Labor, the Greens and Senator David Leyonhjelm have all drafted bills that would legalise same-sex marriage.

Last month Qantas boss Alan Joyce, who is openly gay, spoke at a CEO breakfast hosted by Australian Marriage Equality, Diversity Council Australia and Gilbert and Tobin. He explained why marriage equality was important from a business perspective, and how it could contribute to better work environments, talent mix in a business and brand positioning.

We decided transcribe his comments as it is the best explanation by an Australian executive that we’ve seen on the issue to date.

Here’s what he said.

“Let me emphasise in a couple of different ways why I think it’s important from a business perspective.

Today in The Sydney Morning Herald we talked about this being all about fair go. There’s one expression that I love about Australia, which is it being a fair go. The reason why we call ourselves at Qantas ‘the spirit of Australia’ is we see ourselves as representing the Australian community. We have over 250 different nationalities working for us, 50 languages spoken. We’ve got a huge, diverse workplace of 28,000 people and we have a huge gay community in our workforce. We want all of our people who come to work everyday to feel equal, to feel like they can contribute equally in the organisation and in the country. Any piece of important legislation that in some way says you’re different, you’re second class, you don’t have the same rights as everybody else, is bad for everybody’s position. It’s bad for moral, it’s bad for how people are percieved.

I don’t think the statistics relating to young gay men and women growing up in Australia are unrelated to all of this. There is a high level of bullying, there is a high level of depression, there’s a higher level of suicides in that community. One of the biggest things we can do as a community, as a society, is say ‘it’s alright to be gay,’ ‘it’s alright to grow up and you have equal opportunities everywhere in this country.’ Now, as a gay man running the biggest iconic brand in the country, I believe Australia is a meritocracy. I don’t know how many countries in the world where you would see that happening. The national airline, this iconic Australian brand, I’m Irish, I’m born in Ireland, and I’m gay, and I run this company.

What’s also really important for this, I think is tapping into the business case. Our customers, and I look at the corporate customer listed on that screen, they’re our biggest customers, and what’s great is that we’re in unison with our support for this. Our corporate customers want this to happen. The general community want it and they’re a big part of our customer base. It is very clear from a business point of view that you as a company, and as a consumer company, have to appeal to the broader market and the broader market supports this. A good company would get behind this because it’s good for your brand.

Also for me it’s very important for diversity. We have an executive committee that has three women. Two of them are running two of our biggest businesses. And on the executive committee, including myself, we have three gay men. Now, why is that diversity important? We have people from the United States, from Britain, we have people from New Zealand, we have people from Australia. We have people who are accountants, people that are mathematicians, we have people that have worked in polictics and public relations. Why is that important? Because in a business you are debating and discussing strategies all the time, and the more diversity that you have the better that strategy, the better that planning, the better the outcome, the better the risk identification. It’s clear. Every study of any of the consultancy groups… show that companies that embrace diversity benefit. It means that you have a bigger pool of people that you are selecting from, a bigger talent mix. I think that is one of the reasons why businesses are missing out on a huge opportunity when they are not embracing diversity and encouraging that.

The other two things from a personal point of view that I found very touching over the last while as CEO. One is that when you turn up to business forums such as this and talk, on couple of occasions I’ve had people come up to me. A very senior brigadier in the army was talking (to me) about his son growing up and working in a big corporation, and how difficult he was finding it. He was very worried about coming out at work. He was very worried about what that would mean for his career. So his father asked me if could I talk to him and say how it had impacted on my career, which has gone all the way to being the CEO of a company. You (as a business) have to have be in a position where people are coming through an organisation and do not feel that they have to hide who they are in order to succeed. It doesn’t give us the full capabilities and potential of the people that are working for us.

The other thing, my partner and myself have been together for seventeen years. My partner has three passports. He’s got New Zealand, a British passport and an Australian passport. I’ve got two passports. I’ve got an Irish passport and an Australia passport. So if the referendum in Ireland, which looks like its got great support – the first coutnry in the world which has had a referendum on this – then the only nationalitiy that we couldn’t get married on is our Australian nationality. Which is terrible. When you think of the history of this country being one of the first give the vote to women, well before a lot of the countries around the world get votes to women, our progressive nature somehow has gone missing on this issue. That fact that we have fallen behind a lot of the rest of the globe is extremely disappointing. I want to be proud to be Australian. I am proud to be Australian and we want to be proud be to gay Australians because this is a very important part of who we are, and a very important part of that is the country saying that you’re not in some way equal to the community.”

The full video from the event is below. Joyce starts at 28:10.

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