Business » Corporate

There's No Business Like Good Business: The Corporate Equality Index

by Matthew Wexler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Feb 24, 2015

How do you choose your hotel when traveling? Are you an Apple or PC user? Who is your insurance provider or financial institution? In a world filled with endless consumer choices, the Human Rights Campaign's annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI) offers a valuable snapshot of the corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

By having greater knowledge about our favorite brands, the LGBT community's economic influence can send a powerful message to industries across all sectors. According to Witeck Communications, the total buying power of the LGBT community projected for 2013 was a staggering $830 billion.

This year marks the 13th edition of The Corporate Equality Index and even after two stringent criteria revisions, the movement toward workplace equality is greater than ever.

A record-breaking 366 businesses earned a top score of 100 percent and coveted the distinction of "Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality." Taking a closer look at the Fortune 500 companies, 150 of these businesses achieved a 100 percent rating, with 14 of the top 20 Fortune-ranked businesses at this top score.

"While many companies are leading the way, our nation's federal non-discrimination protections are lagging behind," says Human Rights Campaign Foundation President Chad Griffin. "Critical cultural shifts need to take place to foster greater inclusion. In this case, our elected leaders should be looking to corporate America for a sterling example of how progress is achieved."


The Nuts and Bolts of the CEI

Here are the four main criteria used to evaluate businesses:

  • Provide equal benefits for same-sex partners and spouses.
  • End benefits discrimination for transgender employees and dependents.
  • Demonstrate firm-wide organizational competency on LGBT issues.
  • Demonstrate firm-wide public commitment to LGBT community.

    Among each of these criteria are more details that incur points toward a higher score. For example, "soft" benefits include adoption assistance and employer-provided supplemental life insurance for a partner. LGBT competency requires senior management/executive performance measures that include LGBT diversity metrics as well as gender transition guidelines with supportive restrooms/facilities.

    A public commitment to LGBT-specific efforts may involve philanthropic support of an LGBT organization or event, LGBT employment recruitment efforts, and marketing and/or advertising to LGBT consumers. Of course, the biggest way to knock down a business's score is activity that would undermine LGBT equality.

    By the Numbers
    Some of the most interesting and encourage findings from this year's report include:

  • 98 percent of CEI-rated employers provide employment protections on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • 89 percent of CEI-rated employers provide employment protections on the basis of gender identity - the highest figure to date.
  • Only 18 states (and the District of Columbia) prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.


    Transgender Equality

    Transgender rights have finally come into the limelight and the CEI results are promising. "An impressive group of 418 CEI participants now have transgender-inclusive health care coverage," says Griffin. "Over 290 have adopted supportive gender transition guidelines, to ensure that employees experience a safe, respectful, successful transition in the workplace. The most successful businesses have fully embraced transgender-inclusion as a top priority to support their workforce, their families, and the bottom line."

    In Griffin's opinion, the report's good news is cautionary, stating, "Despite 66 percent of all Fortune 500 companies now including gender identity in the employment protections, we know that this does not always translate into everyday inclusion of the transgender community."

    One of the major criterion specific to transgender rights included in the evaluation process is transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage. This includes pharmaceutical coverage (e.g., for hormone replacement therapies), coverage for reconstructive surgical procedures related to sex reassignment, as well as coverage of routine, chronic or urgent non-transition services. The report highlights 418 businesses that offer at least one transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage plan and consumers will recognize big names in the travel and lifestyle sector such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

    This is a massive paradigm shift in just over a decade. According to the report, only 5 percent of the rated businesses included gender identity in their non-discrimination policies in 2002. Today, that number has jumped to 85 percent.


    Allies Making a Global Impact

    Nearly 80 percent of CEI-rated businesses reported implementing at least three public engagement efforts with the LGBT community. One of the most exciting campaigns recently launched is W Hotels' "Turn It Up For Change" campaign. This high velocity undertaking uses the power of music to raise the volume on the fight for marriage equality and other issues related to LGBT rights. Monthly music events are being held across the country with Academy Award-winner and pop diva Jennifer Hudson serving as advocate and spokesperson.
    Monthly happenings include exclusive room packages, DJ parties, and even a few pop-up surprises by Hudson. A portion of proceeds from each event will be donated to the HRC.

    W Hotels - a global brand with new properties recently opened in Beijing and Bogota and even greater expansion throughout Mexico, China and India - exemplifies the CEI's most recent standards: 360 Degrees of Equality, which extends its impact across borders. To achieve a 100 percent rating in 2016, companies will need to have sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination protections explicitly included in all of its global operations.


    Matthew Wexler is EDGE's National Style and Travel Editor. More of his writing can be found at www.roodeloo.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @roodeloo

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