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Human Rights Campaign Rates Top U.S. Companies for LGBT-Friendly Policies

in UNITED STATES, 27/11/2012

Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2013 Corporate Equality Index is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices related to LGBT employees. This year, the CEI saw the largest growth in the survey’s history - with 54 new businesses opting in - proving that Corporate America is committed to LGBT equality.

In a groundbreaking trend for corporate America, major companies are moving much faster than lawmakers in providing equal rights protection to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

“Businesses have laid a foundation of workplace equality the likes of which no previous generation of employees and job seekers has ever seen,” said the Human Rights Campaign in releasing its 2013 Corporate Equality Index this week.

While the federal and many state governments lag behind in mandating such protections, the HRC hailed the record 252 businesses that achieved its top rating of 100 percent. It said 688 companies participated this year in its survey of company policies and benefits.

Deena Fidas and Liz Cooper, co-authors of the report, told CorpCounsel.com Thursday that corporate America now sees itself as a change agent when it comes to LGBT equality.

Leading the way this year, Fidas said, was Verizon Communications Inc., which jumped from a minus-25 percent rating last year to 100 percent this year.

She explained that it previously had lost points for taking board actions that rejected equality measures. But this year the company gave in to shareholder pressure to recognize LGBT equality, worked with HRC on best practices, and achieved a perfect score from the organization.

The 252 top-ranked businesses span across industries, geographies, and size, Fidas said. But law firms led the charge by far with 71 named, followed by 33 banking and financial service institutions, and 19 retail and consumer businesses.

“Despite the fact that people can still be denied a job or be fired simply for their sexual orientation in 29 states and their gender identity in 34, our corporate allies have surged well ahead of sagging legislation to afford these protections,” said HRC president Chad Griffin in the report’s opening statement.

When the group did its first survey in 2002, only 13 businesses received its top rating.

“In 2002, we were knocking on doors to get businesses to participate,” Fidas said. “In the last 10 years, companies are calling us and asking to be rated. They’ve seen the value of the index to their business.”

This year, 13 of the top 20 Fortune companies received 100 percent rankings. Besides Verizon, they include: Chevron Corp., General Motors Co., Bank of America, Ford Motor Co., Hewlett-Packard Co., AT&T Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., AIG, International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), Cardinal Health Inc., and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac).

Of the remaining seven top 20 Fortune companies, Exxon Mobil Corp. received the worst ranking, with a minus-25. Fidas explained that Exxon-Mobil lost points for rescinding its equality policy.

“We don’t deduct points very often” she said. “It’s done sparingly and in a deliberate way, first giving companies notice and a chance to work with us.”

For the lowest scores in the Fortune top 20, Exxon was followed by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. with zero, ConocoPhillips with 55, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. with 60. General Electric and McKesson Corp. both scored 75, while the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) scored 80 percent.

Among other findings in the report:

  • 99 percent of participating workplaces prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 84 percent on gender identity as well.
  • 89 percent offer domestic partner health care benefits.
  • 42 percent offer transgender health benefits.

The group also said a record 74 major businesses and law firms publicly supported pro-equality legislation at the state and federal levels—including some that played an active role in the same-sex marriage campaigns that passed this fall in four states.

HRC cited a “new reality” that includes gay awareness in the “fierce competition between companies to recruit and retain the best employees and to influence consumer choices.”

Toward that end, the HRC also publishes an annual “buyer’s guide” that points consumers to GLBT-friendly companies and products.

Fidas agreed that most businesses are acting in their own best interests by embracing equality in their policies. But it goes further than that.

“What we’ve seen is they are not only amending their policies to fill in gaps that legislators have left, but they have actually become strident allies of equality,” including during the recent election season, she said.

Griffin released a statement saying major companies have spoken, and “we hope Congress will follow corporate America’s lead and create a level playing field—including passing fully inclusive workplace non-discrimination legislation.”

The HRC is America’s largest civil rights organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality.

Invited to respond to its survey were Fortune’s 1,000 largest publicly traded businesses, and The American Lawyer magazine’s top 200 revenue grossing law firms (The American Lawyer is a sibling publication of Corporate Counsel). Plus, any private sector for-profit employer with 6,500 or more U.S. employees can request to participate.

Fidas said about one-third of the survey is weighted toward protections, one-third toward benefits, and one-third toward internal and external diversity efforts.

For the first time this year, the HRC will also rate 137 cities on how inclusive their laws and policies are. It plans to release this Municipal Equality Index on December 3.

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