U.S firms scramble to be seen as gay-friendly


A record number of large American companies are now competing to be seen as "gay-friendly", a new survey has revealed.

The study by the Human Rights Campaign found large U.S. companies are increasingly competing to expand benefits and protections for their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees and consumers.

Its fifth annual Corporate Equality Index showed an unprecedented 138 major U.S. companies earned the top rating of 100 per cent, up from 101 in 2005 and a ten-fold increase over the past four years.

"I am incredibly encouraged and optimistic about the findings in this report. Companies are not only working to improve their scores, they are actively competing to be ranked the most inclusive and fair-minded in their industry," said Human Rights Campaign President, Joe Solmonese.

"Leading companies, which years ago instituted basic equal employment policies, are accelerating their efforts to expand the range of benefits. This competition sends a clear message that corporate America is rapidly becoming a place of fairness for GLBT Americans," he added.

There was now fierce competition among many companies for a top rating, with firms scrambling to improve their company policies and benefits.

Last year, for instance, just one aerospace company – Raytheon – got a perfect score. This year there were four.

Four other industries also saw rapid growth in companies achieving the top score. A total of eight law firms, five pharmaceutical companies and five consulting houses all reached 100 per cent for the first time in 2006, said the campaign.

And, while in 2005, two major auto companies achieved the top rating, this year that number doubled to four.

"CEOs are very much aware of their score and its impact on their business. They know that a top score means a healthier work environment, greater productivity, and the ability to recruit top talent. They also know that a bad score will hurt their bottom line," said Solmonese.

Three quarters more companies than in 2005 now prohibited discrimination against transgender employees in employment practices.

Nearly two thirds more companies than in 2005 implemented at least one wellness benefit for transgender employees.

And more than a third more companies than in 2005 extended vision, dental and dependent medical coverage to employees' same-sex domestic partners, the survey found.

A total of 14 per cent more companies than in 2005 engaged in philanthropic or marketing activities directed toward the GLBT community, it added.

Almost all of the companies rated – 436 or 98 per cent – included sexual orientation in their non-discrimination polices.

"Corporations are rapidly adopting a more complete vision of fairness for GLBT employees in policy and practice," added Daryl Herrschaft, director for HRC's workplace project and report author.

"These findings reflect a common desire in organizations today to move at a heightened pace to implement fair and equal policies for GLBT employees and then work to publicise their achievements."

Three companies received a score of zero on the report – oil giant ExxonMobil, grocery chain Meijer and high-tech consulting firm Perot Systems.

None of these companies offered even the most minimal benefits or workplace protections to their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, the study found.