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The Gay Index: Diversity Boosts Business

For businesses and job seekers looking for the best local environment for growth, diversity does matter.

According to a relatively new economic development theory, the more diverse and tolerant an area, the better it will be able to support economic growth. In his recent book The Rise of the Creative Class, author Richard Florida says, “Regional economic growth is powered by creative people, who prefer places that are diverse, tolerant and open to new ideas. Diversity increases the odds that a place will attract different types of creative people with different skill sets and ideas.”

The Gay Index

Some of this theory began with doctoral student Gary Gates. While studying at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1990s, he created a measure of where gay/lesbian people were located, based upon the 1990 Census, and has since updated the data to reflect the 2000 Census. The Gay Index ranks regions by their concentrations of gay/lesbian people. It should be noted that these numbers reflect only partnered gays/lesbians, because there is no way to indicate your sexual orientation on the Census form unless you're the unmarried partner of someone of the same gender.

Why Is Tolerance So Important?

Florida's theory, which he calls the creative capital theory, refers to the “three T's of economic development: technology, talent and tolerance.” The final T is where the gay/lesbian community plays a significant part. According to Florida, along with acceptance of immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities, where a city or region ranks on the Diversity (Gay) Index can go a long way toward predicting its potential for growth. As a matter of fact, he believes tolerance toward the gay/lesbian community is more important than that toward other minorities.

According to Gates, now with the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, gays can be viewed as “the canaries of the Creative Age.”

As Florida puts it, “homosexuality represents the last frontier of diversity in our society, and thus, a place that welcomes the gay community welcomes all kinds of people.”

When Florida compared the High Tech Index, a ranking of regions with high technology industries, with Gates's Gay Index, he found a significant correlation. “The Gay Index is a very strong predictor of a region's high tech industry concentration,” writes Florida. He further notes that a concentration of gays/lesbians in the population is also a positive predictor of impending economic growth for a region.

What This Means for You

All this is fascinating information for corporate types and community planners, but it is also important for members of the gay/lesbian community to know and understand it.

For starters, there's a certain confidence boost when you're armed with this knowledge. After being told throughout our lives that our sexual orientation is something we probably shouldn't make known and might even want to lie about, it's exhilarating to know that the likes of the Economist, BusinessWeek and Information Week are telling business bigwigs to pay attention to Florida's theory. Knowing that really smart employers will be working to employ a more diverse group of people makes it easier to be yourself during the application and interview process.

If you're not inclined to be an agent of change, the studies cited here can help you in your search for the ideal work climate. If relocation is in your future, why not make the move to a community that rates high on the Diversity Index? What could make being the new kid on the block easier than knowing you're not only welcomed, but are also sought?

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