In 2023, 510 anti-LGBTQ bills circulated in state lawhouses, and 75 were signed into law. Many closely mimicked Florida’s landmark Don’t Say Gay bill, which restricts the ability of educators to mention sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

The past year has seen a flurry of similar legislation in a variety of areas, from women’s and LGBTQ rights to diversity and inclusion to immigration. Such policy measures—and general absence of good government policy—can serve to spur the private sector to react, and innovate. And it appears to be the fuel for some of the work of the top 10 social good companies in Fast Company’s 2024 Most Innovative Companies.

“Civic action has always been about reacting to either governments being in gridlock or constrictive,” says Hala Hanna, executive director of MIT Solve, a tech-for-good accelerator. “They’re either filling a void, or they’re on the offensive, fighting back.”

That could be said about Folx Health, which offers healthcare access specifically for the LGBTQ community, including gender-affirming services and family planning for same-sex couples. Business for its primary care offering spiked by 546% last year. While this was partly due to lowered prices, a majority of customers named discrimination a more restrictive barrier than price. In Florida in particular, its customers doubled as the company moved to make same-day telehealth appointments available.

Folx Health’s founder, A.G. Breitenstein, who is gay, has been outspoken about her own healthcare access experiences. Hanna says this kind of lived experience from innovators can be key, especially for companies serving vulnerable communities, because they know the culture and the context. “You care so personally about the problem that you will stick with it through thick and thin,” she says.

Elsewhere, CareerCircle is a company boosting underrepresented groups in tech, given that 68% of tech business leaders say the industry doesn’t have enough diversity, and more than half find it hard to hire diverse talent. The 80 anti-DEI bills signed in 2023 aren’t making that easier, nor is a Supreme Court ruling killing affirmative action in college admissions. CareerCircle, whose applicants average 32% Black candidates and 36% women, provides tech training with companies like IBM and Salesforce, as well as job placement.

In other areas, it’s the lack of thoughtful policies that is holding progress back, placing the impetus on private companies to innovate. International students struggle to secure funding for college education without U.S. credit scores, leading fintech startup Mpower Financing to create a scholarship fund open to students, including DACA recipients and refugees. Hello Divorce makes divorce proceedings easier where it’s not, because many states make separating hard and require legal proceedings even in places where access to legal services might be difficult.

Companies can have success without government, but it helps to have policy on your side, Hanna says, especially as the business attempts to scale. “Is it about making the daily more bearable, or is it about changing systems?” Hanna asks. “At what point is an innovator just too small to be able to significantly change the system?”

Those entities do work cooperatively sometimes. Last year, train company Brightline received $3 billion in funding from the White House for boosting U.S. rail travel, which will help it develop its fully electric, high-speed Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas route. Not only does that government support allow for expansion but also for appealing to a broader customer base. “We had a lot of people that were rooting for us,” says CEO Mike Reininger, “but when they saw that happen, a lot more people went from being fans to being true believers.”

Explore the full 2024 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 606 organizations that are reshaping industries and culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact across 58 categories, including advertising, artificial intelligence, design, sustainability, and more.

By

2 thoughts on “From Don’t Say Gay to anti-DEI, how the private sector has reacted to restrictive new law”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *