Erika Karp is the Founder and CEO of Cornerstone Capital, a New York-based financial services firm focused on sustainable and social impact investing that promotes inclusivity. Cornerstone Capital has earned a certification from the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and Karp has been awarded for her work in the LGBT entrepreneurial ecosystem. She recently co-wrote a report called Two Lenses, One Vision: Investing for LGBTQI and Gender Equity, Read on to find out more about what it takes to not only create a culture of inclusivity, but what blind spots you may be having when it comes to thinking about LGBTQI, gender-lens investing, and how to address them:

You mention on your latest report that bias towards LGBTQI employees cannot solely be resolved through corporate policies- what key actions can companies implement in their workplaces in order to create a culture shift of inclusivity? 

To be clear, policy issue is critical. Bringing policies from the Board of Directors on down to the rest of the company is important, and consciousness about what questions need to be asked by management is crucial to progress.

The main things to consider is ACCESS: access to opportunity, mobility, education, and information. A lot of what we talk about is the imbalance of power. Very often, the imbalance of power relates to access to information, and in this economy, information is power. That being said, policy alone can’t fix that, but rather, company culture.

When it comes to inclusivity, opportunity promotes productivity. Employees have to know that there’s not a dramatic impact from failure, but that failure, experimentation and creativity have to go hand-in-hand. Companies should have a culture that embraces this culture. You want employees to be fearless in the world we live in now. We have to try new things to find solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

Tolerance for risk and tolerance for failure, (if done with good intentions) is important [in creating a culture shift of inclusivity].

It’s also vital to consider that for an employee to report discrimination, there is a cost for them to speak up. They can be perceived as a troublemaker (I know this because it has happened to me). You want to be the kind of company that makes employees feel comfortable that if a concern is raised, it will be taken seriously. And this is relevant across gender, race, everything.

Talk more about subtle forms of discrimination, like what’s deemed “man’s work” or “women’s work”, and how that can affect LGBTQI employees. Can you elaborate a little more on examples of normative expectations of gender at work, and how companies can avoid it?

With regard to social norms, let’s face it, we’re still not there. Women are still perceived as less ambitious, less competitive, or less effective as men. There’s still an assumption; after all, women are the ones having the babies. Sometimes, this old-fashioned notion that women’s careers can’t come first, still exist.

So when it comes to LGBTQI employees, there are certain questions about benefits that companies should reflect on, which would allow all employees to better balance their work and lives. Questions such as:

  • What kind of benefits do you have?
  • Do you have health care benefits that LGBTQI employees need?
  • Do you have benefits for transitions for trans employees?
  • What about adoption assistance?
  • Family leave policies?

Before founding Cornerstone, I was with UBS firm, and before I had a child, I asked the company if they would pick up health benefits for my wife. At first, they didn’t, but then they came back and said they would. Then I asked, what about fertility treatments? They said they didn’t know. Then they said yes. What about adoption reimbursement programs? Again, they didn’t know, but then they said yes. In every case, they came back and said yes.

I feel good that I helped set the precedent for these benefits, and hope more companies do so.

 When people think about investing from a gender lens, investors may not automatically think about LGBTQI equity as part of that category. Can you explain further as to why LGBTQI equity should be a strong consideration for those investing with a gender lens? 

When you’re investing from a gender lens, you have to go beyond women and girls. Gender is fluid. Most people wouldn’t realize that it is very important to understand that gender identity and sexual orientation are two entirely different things. So when we want to be inclusive, we need to think about this. Are you investing in LBGTQI founders? The current generation is growing up being far more comfortable with non-binary identifications, and they are building the future.

As an investor, you also have to look at the power structures: some nations have death penalties for being gay. Are you doing business with countries like that? Where are there abuses of human rights? People are becoming more aware of the violence trafficking that affect women and girls, but this affects LBGTQI too- be on the lookout for that.

What about other “blindspots” do you wish more companies/leaders were aware of? 

Words matter. Creating inclusion is reflected in the words you choose to say.

The United Nations for example, does nothing when it comes to human rights for the LGBTQI community, and it shows. I once did a speech at the General Assembly, and there is a protocol for every speaker to start of their speech by addressing the audience as “Excellencies, Delegates, Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen”. Half a dozen executives use that introduction, but I couldn’t use it because it was exclusionary. Instead, I addressed them as, “Excellencies, Delegates, Honored Guests, and Colleagues of all Genders.”

That was my way of saying, you are not inclusive enough, and it was noticed.

What are concrete ways and strategies in which investors can be more active in using their investment capital to further LGBTQI Equity? 

The biggest way is to look for inconsistency in corporate sustainability and impact.

If there is a company that is excited about doing business in a particular State and also excited about LGBTQI inclusiveness, we need to watch what they do if that State passes some law that is harmful to the LBGTQI community.

Are companies being visible and active when big things are going on, like proposals for marriage equality? If a company steps up during those times, look for that. Analyze their supply chains and corporate cultures as well. Are they expressing their values at every stage in their business?

What excites you most about being a part of SVC?

It’s the feeling of a shared sensibility, like we’re all here because we share something in the first place. There’s earnestness and genuine dedication to investing in social impact. At SVC events, I never feel like I am being pitched by anyone at any time. Lastly, I am a huge fan of your Executive Director, Valerie. I think she’s the best.

Download the report co-written by Erika here: Two Lenses, One Vision: Investing for LGBTQI and Gender Equity

Join leaders like Erika in our Membership Circle and at our annual conference this November 13-15 in Berkeley CA, as we convene to “Welcome the Next Economy”.

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