How do Madison companies fair on equality? Marty Fox surveys the local corporate climate and lays a foundation for building a bridge between area employers and LGBT workers.
In this, the very first Our Lives Corporate Diversity Initiative Report we are looking at an overview of the current corporate landscape for LGBT workers, suppliers, and customers with a goal to begin a conversation that will improve the local business climate, create a safer and more productive workplace, and develop a relationship of trust between the LGBT and business communities.
Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin. Home to progressive ideas and forward thinking. Many would expect that this would be a community leading the way for corporate LGBT diversity. In many ways, the idea of the Madison area as an oasis of diversity in the Midwest remains a work in process. Many of us enjoy working in a supportive atmosphere of acceptance while others in our community walk through their workplaces on eggshells unsure about their status and fearing the consequences of exposure. The world of work is changing in Madison as it is in other parts of the country, but not fast enough to assure LGBT employees fair and equal access to opportunity and not thoroughly enough to truly welcome the millenials who have grown up through the GSA movement.
Bridging LGBT Employees and their Employers
Imagine a bridge that connects the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community with the larger, private corporate employers. Let’s assess the current condition of that bridge, talk together about how that connection might look and feel, and begin an open conversation in our community about how to make that connection stronger.
Where we are… (condition of the bridge)
Policies and Benefits: The State of the Workplace is an annual report, published by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The 2010 Index, released in September, listed ratings for 588 employers across the country. An “unprecedented” 305 major U.S. businesses earned the top rating of 100 percent.
How did our local corporations do in this year’s survey? Eight Wisconsin-based businesses are among those rated and just three have a 100 percent rating. For companies headquartered in the Madison area, only three are rated and none of them has a 100 percent rating. A number of Madison workplaces are regional offices or operations centers whose corporate headquarters are elsewhere and a number of these organizations have a 100 percent rating.
Included is a list of the businesses with headquarters here and a longer list of companies that have an office or outlet in the area. Our local companies generally lose points in the areas of gender identity discrimination, gender identity training, transgender benefits, and transition guidelines. The HRC Foundation offers assistance in identifying best practices and how to put inclusive policies in place, but gender identity and transgender treatment are still treated as touchy topics. Progress in this area is disappointing. Madison area companies must include the entire LGBT community in their corporate diversity programs as leading companies across the country have done.
Climate: The HRC metric serves as a benchmark of policies and benefits that are necessary to build an organization that is supportive to its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender constituancies. However, it cannot provide a true measure of how an organization’s culture feels to its employees, suppliers, and customers. This might be measured by the gap between the number of total LGBT employees and the number of employees who feel safe enough to be out at work. It takes a good amount of effort to keep your private life entirely separate from your work life. Some make this effort because they are inclined to keep their private life private, but many stay closeted at work because they are afraid. Afraid of harassment, afraid of being passed over for promotions or opportunities, and sadly, afraid for their personal safety.
Employees continually assess the climate of their surroundings. Are there allies who would step forward to stop inappropriate “jokes” or follow up to make sure that a staff meeting or social event felt welcoming? Are leaders comfortable saying “lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender” out loud? Are there LGBT role-models? There are subtle and not-so-subtle messages that send a clear signal—“it is safe to bring your whole being to work”—or not. All of these are part of the harder-to-measure corporate climate and are key factors LGBT employees use when they determine how much of their lives they can safely share.
Degrees of Equality, a new report by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation finds that the majority of LGBT workers hide their LGBT identity to most people at work. While there is currently no comparable measurement for workers in the Madison area, it is safe to say that far too many people in our community struggle to keep their lives tucked away into compartments. Both employees and their employers lose in this old solution driven by suspicion and lack of understanding.
Some local companies have established employee resource groups or employee networks that provide a format for supporting LGBT workers and their allies. Most of our local organizations are new and struggling. Hats off to companies like Kraft Foods for helping these groups find their voice. Kraft’s Rainbow Council provides a forum for support and networking among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees, raises awareness within the Kraft organization, and promotes involvement in the community.
Many organizations rely on diversity training to bring their employees the information they need about the LGBT community. The quality and extent of diversity training varies a great deal between training vendors. Some is life changing and some barely touches the surface, failing to provide adequate information and resources. Without effective training, little changes and leaders do not develop enough cultural sensitivity to address LGBT issues with confidence.
We have more work to do to create a climate that will enable all employees to be whole beings at work. When employees feel enough fear and alienation to hide their sexual orientation from their employer and their co-workers, their creativity and productivity are diminished. We waste some of our most precious resources every time fear causes someone to stay in the closet at work.
Business Responsibility: In additional to policies and benefits and organizational climate, the best practices would include recognition of LGBT-owned businesses and consideration of HRC metrics when making corporate purchasing decisions. Supplier diversity programs need to expand their focus to include LGBT organizations. The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce began certifying LGBT-owned small businesses in 2002, a process that requires majority LGBT ownership of a business and verification of a business’s good standing in the community. It is not too late to be the first Wisconsin company listed in the NGLCC directory.
Gay families should be proportionally visible and included in advertising and customer outreach.
Strong business allies of the LGBT community should stand firmly on the side of fairness when relevant public policies are being debated. There are currently opportunities to become members of the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness and the Business Coalition for Benefit Tax Equity through the HRC Foundation. Companies with a local presence that have joined these groups are shown on the attached table. Thank you to Cullen Weston Pines & Bach LLP for standing up to support Benefit Tax Equality.
Companies should consider sponsoring LGBT events and non-profit organizations.
There are no current measurements for these business responsibility issues in total, but they impact the image of a business in the eyes of LGBT customers, suppliers, and employees. Many local companies have done a good job of reaching out to sponsor or support LGBT events and non-profit organizations, and some have taken a stand to support LGBT issues, but there is more effort required to create a strong environment of business responsibility.
So, we are not where we would like to be in terms of policies and benefits, corporate climate, or business responsibility. According to Robert South, “Problems can become opportunities when the right people come together.” Let’s come together to take on this opportunity to step forward and build a pathway to better understanding and more inclusive workplaces.
First, I invite you to participate in this endeavor by thinking about the goal. Are there other pieces that are missing?
A blueprint for the Bridge – What is the goal?
Fully welcoming and inclusive workplaces which would have:
• An employee network organization, resource, or affinity group
• A set of employee benefits that mirror those offered to straight employees and their families
• Policies that support a safe workplace for all individuals
Fully welcoming and inclusive workplace climates which would assure that:
• Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people would not have to fear for their personal safety or their dignity
• All employees would be evaluated on their contributions rather than on the gender of their loved ones or their gender identity
• Those in leadership would have the tools to treat employees,suppliers, and customers with cultural confidence
Fully welcoming and inclusive corporate community partners that:
• Consider equal opportunities for LGBT-owned businesses in sourcing decisions
• Provide financial and leadership support for LGBT events and organizations
• Speak up for fairness on issues that impact their LGBT customers, suppliers, and employees
A venue to connect LGBT people in our business community—something like O.P.E.N. See the article on the next page.
In short, a community where business and LGBT leaders work together for greater understanding and a brighter future.
Secondly, I invite you to think about what you can do as an individual, what companies can do, and what we can do together.
Bridge building work plan – Next Steps
LGBT Individuals and Their Allies: How can an individual work to improve the local climate for LGBT employees? Members of the LGBT community and allies all need to be involved in efforts to make this happen. This is our community, our opportunity, and our responsibility to make this the kind of place where we want to live and work. So roll up your sleeves and …
• Talk with your Human Resources or Diversity departments
about forming an Employee Resource Group (ERG).
• Speak out against inappropriate jokes and harassment.
• Educate others when you have the opportunity. Say “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender” out loud; it is the name of our community.
• Join your ERG if your company has one and attend meetings.
• Take a leadership role in the organization.
• Join/attend an LGBT community or leadership organization.
• Provide feedback to the Our Lives Corporate Diversity Initiative on the goals and process for this project. Volunteer to work on this ongoing project.
Companies Can …
• Provide support for an ERG.
• Commit to revising policies so they are truly inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees.
• Provide employee benefits for LGBT employees that mirror those offered to straight employees and their families.
• Include the LGBT population in advertising, outreach, and sourcing.
• Work with your ERG to develop thorough and effective diversity training.
• Speak up on fairness issues.
This is a first look at the issues facing Madison area businesses and their LGBT employees, suppliers, and customers. Together we have an opportunity to bring our community together to discuss and address the areas of shortfall. While it is difficult to get a real assessment of how LGBT employees feel, we invite feedback from you our readers. What is it that makes your workplace welcoming? How does your workplace make you feel? Let us know.
Resources for Bridge Building
Employee Resource Groups: Several local companies have employee resource groups or affinity groups for LGBT employees and allies. Starting an ERG can be a daunting task, even with senior leadership support. Work schedules, communication, and turnover of steering team members can make this effort a challenge. There are national support organizations that can help with guidelines and information about how to do get a group going. A successful employee network is a voice that can help business leaders better understand our community and is a great platform for strengthening ally relationships.
• Out and Equal, San Francisco, CA 94104 (outandequal.org)
4-Day Annual Summit in October
• Kraft’s Rainbow Council
Policies and Benefits: Samples of corporate policies and benefit considerations are available on the HRC site:
Human Rights Campaign Foundation
Workplace Project (hrc.org/issues/workplace.asp)
Washington, D.C. 20036
Supplier Diversity: Information about how to be a part of the NGLCC Diversity Program
National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
Supplier Diversity Program (nglcc.org/programs)
Washington, DC 20009
Public Policy Issues: Human Resources Campaign, Lambda Legal
Other Resources: AFL-CIO Pride at Work