More employers setting policies to protect LGBT workers

Some of the nation’s top companies are leading the trend toward making the workplace a welcoming environment for all workers.

Forty-one percent of Fortune 500 and 25 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have policies protecting transgender employees from discrimination.

And this year, 305 businesses reached a 100 percent rating on the Corporate Equality Index 2010, compared with 260 businesses last year, according to a Human Rights Campaign Foundation report. When the index was launched during 2002, only 13 businesses reached 100 percent.

Collectively, these 305 businesses employ 9.3 million U.S. workers.

It could be argued that part of being a successful company includes having a nondiscrimination policy.

“Of the 286 Fortune 500 businesses rated by the CEI, 123 received 100 percent ratings, with an average CEI rating of 83,” said Eric Bloem, deputy director of Workplace Project for the foundation. “And 11 of the Fortune top 20 companies received 100 percent ratings.”

But despite advances toward equality, evidence shows that discrimination in the workplace is alive and well in America.

The results of a nationwide survey and focus-group study of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers were released by the foundation to coincide with the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee’s Sept. 23 hearing about H.R. 3017.

The legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, was introduced in the House June 24 and in the Senate on Aug. 5.

The HRC study shows that 51 percent of LGBT workers hide their LGBT identity at work, leading to increased workplace stress, less productivity and the inability to participate in everyday conversations — which “hinders trust and cohesion with their co-workers and superiors.”

Men, younger workers, racial and ethnic minorities and workers at larger companies are less likely to be open about their LGBT identity at work.

When asked to describe a positive work climate, LGBT workers characterize it as one in which they feel free to be themselves, voice their opinions, engage openly in non-work-related conversations, feel safe from discrimination and believe they are valued, accepted and part of a team.

More than 50 studies of discrimination against LGB people have established that they face significant barriers to equality.

Fewer studies have been conducted about discrimination against transgender people.

But transgender Americans have twice the rate of unemployment as the general population.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund conducted a six-month joint-effort survey with the National Center for Transgender Equality of 6,450 transgender and gender-nonconforming people, in all 50 states, as well as Washington D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The key finding is that discrimination in employment against transgender people is “a nearly universal experience.”

Ninety-seven percent of transgender people surveyed reported being “mistreated or harassed at work.” And 47 percent “lost their jobs, were denied a promotion, or denied a job as a direct result of being transgender.”

Employers interested in providing a work environment that is supportive of diversity have many options.

In addition to local, state or federal laws, or a lack thereof, employers can implement their own nondiscrimination policy.

“It’s a great indicator of inclusion for a company to have their own policy that includes nondiscrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” said Ryan Acker, executive director of the Pikes Peak Gay & Lesbian Community Center.

Acker said that one of the first things LGBT employees look for in a company is whether it has a “comprehensive nondiscrimination” policy.

And employers also can promote diversity in the workplace through programs and focus groups in which participants can talk about what diversity means and “what inclusion looks like” in practice, not just policy.

Such programs can show that an employer is “proactive and recognizes diversity in their employees, clients and leadership as an asset,” Acker said.

Employers and businesses can engage with the community, sponsor events, and offer financial or volunteer resources.

“If they want to be known as inclusive, employers can be visibly supportive with leveraging of corporate support to help the community and support causes that LGBT people care about,” Acker said.

If ENDA legislation is passed in its current form, it would “extend the federal employment discrimination protections (that are) currently based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability to (include) sexual orientation. ENDA extends fair employment practices and does not convey special rights,” according to The American Federation of Government Employees’ Web site.

ENDA would “prohibit public and privates employers, employment agencies and labor unions from using an individual’s sexual orientation as the basis for employment decisions. And it provides for the same process as permitted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, but has limited remedies.”

Uniformed military personnel, businesses with fewer than 15 employees and religious organizations would be exempt.

“ENDA does not require an employer to provide benefits for the same-sex partner of an employee, nor does it allow the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect statistics on sexual orientation,” the AFGE stated.

If ENDA passes, employers will need to review their procedures and policies to ensure they’re in compliance, said The Employment Law Post, HR News.

“It may even be a good idea for employers to go ahead and review their discrimination and harassment policies now, and either proactively amend them to be in compliance with ENDA, or at least know which provisions, if any, they will need to change if the bill passes.”

With the likelihood of ENDA being signed into law, it would behoove employers to prepare for it beforehand, by addressing discrimination in the workplace.

The Pikes Peak region has a new resource for allies and the LGBT community — the GLBTA Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber is growing rapidly, we have 78 businesses, services and organizations on our Web site — and we haven’t even launched, yet,” said Charles Irwin, director of the GLBTA Chamber.

The timing is right for economic reasons — because of the recession, consumers are trying to spend locally.

“People don’t always realize the impact in dollars and cents of GLBT businesses, individuals and allies in this community,” he said. “There are always challenges for any minority group, but it’s (establishing a GLBTA chamber in the region) certainly a move in the right direction.”

One Response to More employers setting policies to protect LGBT workers

  1. Great article Rebecca! Thanks for covering this important issue. The facts in your report demonstrate that progress continues to be made toward greater workplace equality and that the most successful corporations realize that celebrating diversity is not just the right thing to do, but good for business. Citizens Project – a local organization that advocates for equal rights – is working to help the City of Colorado Springs improve it’s employment practices in this area by adopting an expanded employee health benefits program (without increasing costs), called Plus One. Your readers can learn about it on our web site at http://www.citizensproject.org/what-we-stand-for/plus-one/.

    Barb Van Hoy
    October 2, 2009 at 12:59 pm