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COMMENTARY: Corporate LGBT equality standards

Imagine you are asked to rank a large corporation in terms of LGBT inclusion. Would you know how to answer?

Fortunately, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has created a benchmark for you. They’ve set the bar based on specific workplace criteria, and they publish survey results each year in their Corporate Equality Index (CEI).

Businesses with a top score of 100 points are included in their “Best Places to Work.” The HRC also provides a “Buying for Equality Guide” to help consumers decide where to spend. It’s about the money and more.

The recently released 2014 CEI includes 734 respondents from the Fortune 1000 – the largest response to date, and expanded from previous years that only included the Fortune 500. While adding in medium-sized companies would be helpful to many, the goal for the near future is to increase response from the largest corporations.

A round of applause to San Diego-headquartered businesses with a 100 score: CareFusion Corp., Qualcomm, Sempra Energy and Sony Electronics.

Scoring a mediocre 55 was Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps.

Here are a few other businesses with a San Diego presence and their scores: Nordstrom, Genentech, Chevron and Target hit the bulls-eye with 100, Costco 90, General Dynamics 85, Walmart 80, Whole Foods 75, KB Home 50, Domino’s Pizza 35 and Kohl’s with an unfashionable 15.

Why is the CEI important to employees and employers? Corporations have a vested interest in diversity. A strong corporate workforce means being able to secure and retain talent from all corners. For this to happen, straight and LGBT employees need to feel comfortable in their work environment. A CEI listing is an additional resource for corporations in their search for top talent and some prospective employees use this influential information when making career decisions.

In addition to on-the-job comfort, benefits can make up 20% percent of a total compensation package. California legalities regarding same-gender marriage aside, the consistency and stability a corporation can provide is a benefit to its employees and their partner or spouse. Parity with non-LGBT co-workers and benefit packages take on new importance when an out-of-state transfer occurs.

For me, it seemed appropriate that on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, San Diego tech-giant Qualcomm sponsored an event by the HRC and the Equality Professional Network, an inclusive group of LGBT professionals and their allies.

The day began with Liz Cooper, HRC manager of Corporate Programs/Workplace Project, who delivered a white paper on the CEI. Compiled from completed surveys past and present, the CEI evaluates and compares performance. Points are scored for meeting specific LGBT inclusive criteria, some of which include: equal employment opportunities, medical benefits, transgender health insurance, public outreach, sustained positive action, and accountability.

The HRC periodically updates how it documents performance. Cooper reported corporate push-back concerning the imposition of stricter guidelines. She said the HRC held strong, which forced the corporations to try harder, even as they struggled to keep up with changing societal demands. The results were encouraging.

After the keynote address, a six-member panel comprised of corporate diversity representatives responded to Q&A. During the discussion, Lee Wills-Irvine, senior manager HR and Global Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Qualcomm, succinctly stated, “LGBT issues are business issues.” The panelists agreed, positively addressing LGBT issues as cost-effective, demonstrating ethics consistent with inclusion, and serving both the corporation and employees.

Data from anonymous employee surveys show 50% of LGBT employees are not “out” at work. To counter closeted behavior, Qualcomm and other corporations have instituted affinity groups geared toward employee interests to show support and create an open-minded environment where workers can feel free to be themselves while doing their jobs.

The 2014 CEI can be accessed HERE. Using simple graphics, readers can see at a glance how individual companies or whole sectors compare. The good news is, more corporations are realizing the benefits of LGBT inclusion and are working to raise their scores. When a corporation shows it cares about you, you in turn, are more likely to care about the corporation, and that translates into dollars.

That brings us back to the “Buying for Equality Guide.” When planning a purchase, many consumers want to support businesses that share their ideologies and values. Any time you make a purchase or give to charity, small or large, you have an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. If you believe a richly diverse workplace is worthy of your support, you could make a donation to the HRC so they can continue their important work.

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Janet F. Williams is a business communications consultant and author of “You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get.” She writes lesbian fiction under the pen name: Zoe Amos. Please visit: GoodDayMedia.com and janetfwilliams.com.