HB2 will set back NC’s image and economy

Beth Kunkel wears a sticker on her shirt during a protest against House Bill 2 Thursday, March 24, 2016 outside of the Governors Mansion on North Blount Street in downtown Raleigh
Beth Kunkel wears a sticker on her shirt during a protest against House Bill 2 Thursday, March 24, 2016 outside of the Governors Mansion on North Blount Street in downtown Raleigh jhknight@newsobserver.com

Two years ago I gave a presentation to business leaders at the North Carolina Council for Entrepreneurial Development annual life sciences conference, where I discussed the importance of North Carolina to Biogen’s business and our growth – while also outlining the need for effective public policy, both economic and social. At the time we were concerned about potentially regressive policies that could impact our ability to build and support a diverse workforce at our Research Triangle Park campus.

Never did we imagine anything like House Bill 2, a hastily enacted, far-reaching law that excludes LGBT people from anti-discrimination protections. As one of the state’s leading life sciences employers, we find this law patently unacceptable.

Eliminating an entire community’s protections is not only discriminatory, it is bad for business. These protections are intended to preserve dignity and offer a fair chance for individuals to contribute to their fullest. HB2 will adversely affect the ability of North Carolina businesses to build an environment and culture needed to attract, retain and grow the best talent. Cutting-edge science thrives where the power of diversity is advanced, not when it is weakened. Individuals cannot reach their full potential when they have to spend time focusing on whether they are at risk for their beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

North Carolina should focus on fostering a culture where individuals of all backgrounds can succeed. Inclusive companies that remove barriers such as discrimination and prejudice are in the best position to compete and win the race for talent – and they will seek working environments that make this possible.

Inclusion is important to us, not just because it is fair, but because we know that diversity is key to creating the conditions for breakthrough innovation, better quality decision-making and complex problem-solving – all vital elements to succeed in the biotechnology industry.

Merit and excellence have been hallmarks of our company. We cannot have full merit or excellence where the conditions for success are limited by unfounded fears, ignorance and intolerance.

HB2 sets all of us back, and it is shocking how quickly this bill was signed into law with sparse opportunity for comment from all stakeholders. This law has the potential to impact all North Carolina residents by limiting basic human rights, and as businesses from outside the state consider future expansion, this regressive policy will certainly be a consideration.

Without the power of difference, I am concerned about North Carolina’s potential to continue as a leader in the innovation economy.

Biogen will continue to be a strong advocate for better public policy, and we will double down on our efforts to remain the most inclusive work environment – and to support all of our employees in RTP. We owe this determination to all the communities we serve – and to our LGBT patients, employees and their families.

George A. Scangos is CEO of Biogen, North Carolina’s largest biotech company with 1,300 employees working at Research Triangle Park.