James Turley, the Ernst & Young CEO whose pro-gay stances made headlines in recent months, gave his first public LGBT speaking engagement at the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce conference Aug. 8.
Turley, who also serves on the board of Boy Scouts of America, has been a noted LGBT ally, especially since Junewhen he came out against the scouts' ban on openly LGBT members and leaders.
Turley spoke to a full room at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel with Jennifer Brown, CEO of her own consulting firm. He discussed the decision to come out against the Boy Scouts ban and why he thinks diversity initiatives are sound business investments.
"It's about talent," said Turley. "It's about doing what's right but it's also about being a great organization."
Over the years, Turley has aimed to put women, people of color and LGBT workers in positions of power at his global service firm. Company CEOs tend to be white men, said Turley, but clients are rarely so homogenous. Prioritizing diversity within the company makes that company more relatable to clients, Turley said.
"It's not just about doing something nice," he said. "It's about doing something smart. It's about winning."
More than that, said Turley, people who don't start out at the top in the business world have more room to grow.
But despite promoting diverse hiring practices at Ernst & Young, some employees recognized a contradiction in Turley. As a board member of the Boy Scouts, Turley was a part of an organization that expressly excludes LGBT people.
However, Turley's beliefs that diverse businesses are stronger was applicable to the scouts, he said. In June, he came out against the ban on gay scouts. His stance was received well within Ernst & Young.
"Our people realize that I'm not living a double life," he said.
Turley answered audience questions. Among them was what LGBT entrepreneurs should do to win clients.
"You ought to be going after businesses that understand that diverse perspectives make them better," said Turley.
Brown noted that Turley will retire next summer. The CEO said he isn't sure what he will do next.
"The only thing I know is where I'm going to live because my wife told me," he said. He is headed for St. Louis.