Tom Johnson, Clorox vice president – Finance, is the president of the board of directors for Out and Equal Workplace Advocates. Here Tom shares his thoughts on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) allies and his own experience with allies.
How do you define an LGBT ally?
An ally is someone united with others to drive change in their workplace, in their families and in their communities to celebrate diversity and equality.
Why are allies important to the LGBT community?
Despite progress in recent years, it’s still legal to fire people in 29 states simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. On a daily basis, LGBT people must choose between living authentically and providing for their families. Outside of the U.S., we can be jailed or killed simply for living our lives with integrity.
At more progressive companies like Clorox, allies at all levels of the organization play an important role in creating environments where everyone can do their best work. Allies in leadership roles help set the tone for their team by using inclusive language, encouraging and celebrating diversity, and not making assumptions. When everyone can be themselves, it leads to new innovation and a competitive advantage.
When have you felt the support of an ally?
I’ve been truly blessed with support of friends, family, team members and managers at Clorox. At first, it wasn’t easy. Coming from a large, working class, Catholic family in Detroit, I wouldn’t characterize my parents’ initial reaction to my disclosure as “enthusiastic.” But they grew into ardent supporters of me and my partner, Bruce (celebrating 30 years together this month), and relentless advocates for LGBT people up to this day from their retirement community in Florida.
At work, I have countless examples. One CEO helped Clorox become the first CPG company to offer domestic partner benefits. Current CEO Don Knauss was the first Fortune 500 CEO to address more than 2,000 LGBT workers and their allies at the annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit. My team members express sincere interest in my work and family life. And then there is our CFO Steve Robb. Don’t even get him started about inequality inside or outside the workplace. He gets crankier about it than I do.
All of these allies create a work environment where I can focus on driving business results instead of hiding who I am.
Is there a time you wished you had an ally?
Growing up in the Midwest with no LGBT role models was pretty lonely. I was in the dark, confining closet during the early part of my career in public accounting and at Clorox. It’s hard to do your best work in a dark and confining place. My performance and career progress accelerated when I ventured out of the closet.
We recently held Clorox Pride Ally events – why?
Clorox Pride Ally events are intended to sustain and accelerate the inclusive environment at Clorox for LGBT workers. Clorox Pride events are not just for employees who are L, G, B or T – they’re also an opportunity to engage and include our allies, many of whom have LGBT brothers, sisters, children and parents. We also hope this serves as a model for people to embrace and support coworkers with other dimensions of diversity.
What advice would you give to a new ally?
Don’t assume – be inclusive in your words and actions. Enormous amounts of productivity and creativity are wasted when people feel they have to hide part of who they are.