Before I tell you, I have to start at the beginning. I am an attorney who is retired from my 25-year career at a firm of sports agents. In my job, I helped negotiate and write up contracts for many of the most famous athletes in the world. Let me tell you about one of those contracts.
A large American corporate brand — with retail outlets all across the country — came to us to do a deal with one of our clients (a famous athlete — I won’t tell you who it was or what sport he played, but I will tell you that he owned a jet).
Now, that brand wanted our client to film a couple of TV ads, but then their representative told me they wanted him to do more. They wanted him to visit their corporate HQ, they wanted him to visit several of their local retail stores, and they wanted him to attend their annual corporate retreat with executives (and not just the “top executives”) who — collectively — ran the company.
I asked that representative, “Why do you want all these extra services? Why not just have him film the TV ads and stop there?” He told me he wanted to breathe some fresh air into the executive suite at his company. He wanted people to start thinking differently about the business they were in, the customers they sold to, and the possibility of changing how they did business.
He said he was concerned that the corporate culture at this company was getting “inbred.” It was becoming an echo-chamber, where too many of the executives were young men who had all gone to college in the same part of the U.S., and now, when they brought on new hires, those new employees were men (usually) who saw the world the same way they did. To him, there was too much agreement. The company was developing a sort of “hardening of the corporate arteries.”
So he thought, having a superstar athlete show up at HQ would challenge his executives to justify what they were doing — and why — to an athlete who was not accustomed to putting up with any guff. Someone who would shake them up and keep them honest.
Now, not every company can afford to hire a superstar athlete to devote that kind of time to revitalizing a corporate culture. So let me tell you about my friend “Cindy.”
Cindy is a transgender woman. She is in her 50s and is very good at what she does (she’s an IT specialist). Cindy works in Cleveland for a large insurance company. (I won’t tell you the name of the company, but in the “ebb and flow” of memory, you may guess who it is.) So a year ago, she told her boss she wanted the company to accept and support her desire to “come out” as “Cindy” — so that she could begin living her life as her authentic female self.
So what Cindy’s boss did was amazing. He responded “Great! Go for it!” And then Cindy’s request was passed up to her boss’ boss, and then to the boss above that boss, and right on up to the Biggest Boss (who, in a big insurance company is a Big Kahuna indeed). And every one of them said “Great!” And since then, Cindy has become someone who — if I were still doing contracts for famous athletes — I would say is doing the job of a superstar athlete who:
• Represents the company at conferences where new employees are recruited.
• Is the face of progress and flexibility for the company.
• Provides valuable community outreach by meeting with local leaders and the media telling them how she has been supported and encouraged by management.
• As company spokesperson, stresses a “big” company’s values and responds to individual needs.
• Delivers intangible assets in the form of company goodwill.
I am impressed — though not at all surprised — at how her company has used and promoted Cindy. The insurance business is one that cannot help but involve tens of thousands of customers, millions of transactions, and many more millions of payments received and checks mailed out.
Think how easy it would be for employees at that company to become lost in a fog of numbers, quickly forgetting that all their customers are unique humans. But as long as Cindy is there, her company will keep alive its openness to change and its willingness to include different viewpoints — and different genders — in its progressive culture.