Presidential hopefuls are already being vetted for their stances on LGBT issues. And so are the corporations funding them. Companies that have pro-LGBT policies, including Target, have come under fire in the past for donating to anti-LGBT candidates.
This interview with Daniel Duty, now Vice President of Global Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility at Target, took place ofter one of the largest such firestorms. It originally ran on February 15, 2011. In 1992, Duty was appointed by Target's CEO as a cosponsor of the company's LGBT business council. Duty provides an insider's perspective on being gay at Target and how the company overcame public and media backlash for supporting a candidate that opposed gay rights.
dot429: What is it like to be gay at Target? What is the general attitude towards LGBT people?
Daniel Duty: It's funny that you ask that question. I couldn't imagine working anywhere else as a gay person. I've had a fantastic career here for the last 10 years. I started many, many pay grades below where I am today. Target has been nothing but supportive of me and my career. As an out gay man who has been advocating very intentionally both inside and outside the company for inclusiveness, the only things that I've gotten back from Target are praise, reward, and support. And you could hear that story from people across this company, because I talk to them all the time.
It's really a great place to work. You can be out, you can be open, and most people are. We have several top executives in the company who are openly gay. The fact that we are such a community-oriented company feels good, because Target is spending lots of money on GLBT issues and organizations. The company is supporting us every day, as employees, to go out in the community and be volunteers for gay organizations and causes. We have celebrations here in the headquarter buildings. In some ways, we don't think about it all that much, because it is so easy. You don't have to pretend to be anyone else—you are who you are, and that's widely accepted throughout this organization, from the top down.
dot429: Did the company turn to you during the public and media backlash against Target? Did the company seek the advice of the LGBT business council?
DD: Yes, actually, I think I got one of the first calls when that news broke. Really, the great thing about the business councils and how they are used here at Target is that the company does rely on them. They really respect their opinions on how to handle different issues. So, not only did it feel good, but it was natural for our top executives at Target to call the GLBT business council in that situation and say, "This happened, it wasn't our intent, but help us think this through—how do we handle this?"
dot429: What was your immediate advice?
DD: My immediate advice was to understand what had happened and what the facts were. A lot of what we talked about was to continue to do what we already do so well, which was showing the community that Target is not only a huge supporter of not only its GLBT team members, but also a huge supporter of our community and the issues that are important to us. We talked a lot about how to continue down that path and even enhance it where we thought there was opportunity.
dot429: What was the insider response from the LGBT employees at Target? Did you come together to work through this?
DD: We definitely came together to work through it. I think there was a lot of surprise, quite frankly, because we know internally what a great place Target is to work at. It was hard for us to fathom that all these people on the outside were saying that Target had done something terribly wrong, that it was not supportive of the GLBT community when, in fact, we knew very differently. So, the response internally, from both the GLBT team members and straight members in the company, was one of a little bit of surprise and "How can we make this right? How can we assure people that we are the company that we say we are and the company we've been living day-to-day?"
I would say there was a huge coming together of not only the business council team members, but also other executives throughout the company. They were saying to us, "How can we help? What can we do? This is not Target." I think we felt really good about the company response. And what Target did so well, and I think what made us feel so good, was that the first thing Target was concerned about was the team members. The first concern wasn't "How do we send a message to the outside world?" It was "How do we ensure our own people feel good about us and that we are going to live up to the inclusive environment that we always talk about?"
dot429: What are the biggest issues on the table right now for the LGBT business council at Target?
DD: We put together a strategic plan every year for issues we want to focus on. We divide that plan into two aspects: one is workplace issues and the other is marketplace issues.
The workplace piece of our plan is helping the company think about how to be one of the best places for GLBT team members to work. When you walk into Target there is a huge sign on the wall that talks about our inclusive culture—that is our core value here at Target. What we do, as a business council, is help advise the company on how to continue to drive that inclusive culture, especially with regard to GLBT team members. One of the issues we talk about is benefits. Target has pretty comprehensive domestic partnership benefits, but there are always new things that we are discovering and thinking about that we bring to the company's attention. We work with them to make sure we are really getting true inclusiveness for all of our GLBT team members.
The other piece is our marketplace plan, which helps the company understand the GLBT consumer. What is he/she looking for? What motivates him/her? What kind of marketing messages might be important to that community? We really act as an advisory board to the company on thinking about that GLBT consumer segment.
dot429: Do you have any suggestions for people trying to get an LGBT organization started within their company?
DD: The first step is you have to find each other. Get together and really talk about what it is that you want to achieve as an ERG or business council. How do you align your goals and objectives as an ERG with the company's strategies, goals, and objectives? What I have found very powerful, here at Target, is that where we have been able to align our goals with the company's goals, we got to make progress faster. Talk to the company about how your goals are the same as the company's.
The second piece that I think is important is that it's important to build allies throughout the company. We have many, many allies in this company, gay and straight, who are supportive of us. Using them to help spread our message and objectives has been very useful in making things happen. Having those allies, especially in the executive ranks, is important.
dot429: Do you think that the backlash against Target ignited the company to do more for the LGBT community?
DD: I don't know if it sparked us to do more because we were already doing so much. We would have pushed the organization to enhance what they were doing no matter what happened. I feel that the difference between today and yesterday is that we are starting to talk about what we are doing more publicly so that people understand all the great things we've always been doing.
At the end of the day, Target has always been highly invested in the GLBT community.
Originally published on February 15, 2011.