Employers Expanding Equality

A record number of employers are achieving high marks on the Corporate Equality Index as they work to address the needs of a changing workforce.
By: | January 16, 2018 • 5 min read
Man withdrawing a wooden card painted as the gay pride flag from his suit pocket, close up of his hand.

A record number of employers have earned a perfect score on the 2018 Corporate Equality Index, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the Washington-based LGBTQ civil-rights organization that compiles the annual report. CEI’s top score of 100 was awarded to 609 businesses, an increase of 18 percent over last year.

“The Corporate Equality Index has become the baseline measure for recognizing LGBTQ equality in the workplace,” says Paul Smithivas, an inclusion and diversity consultant in the Chicago office of Willis Towers Watson. “It symbolizes that the employer values inclusion and provides a safe working environment for employees to bring their whole self to work.”

The irony of a record-breaking number of perfect scores coinciding with the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency hasn’t escaped HRC leadership, who characterize a number of actions taken by the new president and his administration as blatantly anti-LGBTQ. These include what the HRC characterizes as a “systematic dismantling” of Obama-era protections for LGBTQ people, the effort to ban transgender troops and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the administration will not enforce nondiscrimination protections for transgender workers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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“At a time when the rights of LGBTQ people are under attack by the Trump-Pence administration and state legislatures across the country, hundreds of top American companies are driving progress toward equality in the workplace,” says Chad Griffin, president of HRC. “American principles are being tested. That’s why it’s especially remarkable that this year has ushered in a new high watermark in LGBTQ workplace inclusion.”

While the Trump administration is largely viewed as less accepting of the LGBTQ community than the previous administration, government has always lagged behind the public sector in terms of LGBTQ protections, according to Beck Bailey, deputy director of employee engagement for the organization’s workplace equality program. Even now, he says, the LGBTQ community is not explicitly protected by federal non-discrimination law, but employers are increasingly bridging the gap by instituting workplace policies and protections for their employees.

“Employers understand the value of having a diverse workforce and with a record-breaking number of perfect scores, we see employers continuing to re-evaluate their programs to address the needs of a changing workforce,” says Smithivas.

Employers participating in the Index are rated on four key pillars: non-discrimination policies across business entities; equitable benefits for LGBTQ workers and their families; internal education and accountability metrics to promote LGBTQ inclusion competency; and public commitment to LGBTQ equality.

The most significant progress has been the wide-scale adoption of transgender-inclusive initiatives. Ninety-seven percent of CEI-participating companies have explicit gender identity non-discrimination protections, which 79 percent offer transgender-inclusive health care coverage. Over the past year, Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, one of this year’s perfect-scoring companies, expanded its healthcare coverage to include transition-related treatment and other medically necessary services for transgender people, according to LaTonya King, director of diversity and inclusion. None of the participating companies offered such coverage when the CEI launched in 2002.

Indeed, the landscape for LGBTQ people has changed dramatically since 2002, according to Bailey. At that point, no states had enacted marriage-equality laws and Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made same-sex sexual activity legal in every U.S. state and territory, had not yet been decided. As progress is made, Bailey says, the criteria by which the CEI rates employers evolves, but the HRC is careful to ensure that any new criteria enacted is attainable.

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