Going about business . . . and helping change
Politically oriented organizations, such as those advocating equal rights for lesbians and gays, have long been credited with effecting changes in public policy that reduce discrimination. But what about the role of “ordinary” commercial organizations, such as dry cleaners or insurance agencies or clothing stores, that are affiliated with a “challenger” group that has limited recognition in a political system? A recent article by Giacomo Negro, associate professor of organization and management; Glenn Carroll (Stanford); and Fabrizio Perretti (Bocconi) examines such organizations, which are often overlooked in the study of policy outcomes. The researchers find that “politically mundane” commercial enterprises linked to lesbians and gays can contribute distinctly to local enactment of nondiscriminatory policies. The researchers attribute this to the bridges created between these businesses and the larger community, and to the normalcy and legitimacy signaled by their familiar organizational forms. They find that the more diverse in nature these commercial organizations are, the greater their potential to bring about nondiscriminatory policies. But this potential is diminished, they note, in communities where political organizations, particularly those engaging in contentious action, have a larger presence. The authors conclude that commercial organizations are an important complement to political action and can helpfully challenge discrimination while enhancing community connections and awareness.