Building a gay-friendly workplace

Competitive pressure is forcing companies to enhance benefits and enact nondiscrimination policies.

Published October 4, 2006 12:04AM (EDT)

Things to get happy about: Today the Associated Press heralded the emerging trend of gay-friendly policies in the workplace. The Human Rights Campaign, a lobbying group that tracks company policies on gay, lesbian and transgender rights, recently released its newest list of gay-friendly companies. The list, which has a total of 138 companies -- up from 101 last year -- is topped out by the perfect score of defense contractor Raytheon. New additions to this year's list include Bank of America, Clear Channel Corp. and Google.

According to the article, companies are rated on whether they offer same-sex partners health benefits, enact nondiscrimination policies, and support LGBT resources. According to HRC president Joe Salmonese, the rate at which the list is growing can be attributed to the competition among these big companies. "What we're seeing when we're looking at specific industries, we see an emerging sense that if more than a few are at 100 percent, then we all need to be at 100 percent," Salmonese said. Mike Syers, a partner at Ernst & Young and founder of the firm's LGBT group bEYond, acknowledges the crux of the matter: "We have companies realizing that they really can't afford to exclude anyone."

The greater implication is that corporate America is finally beginning to understand that diversity and tolerance in the workplace are not only good for employees but good for business. Companies shouldn't shunt away desirable employees and valuable business opportunities. For example, the AP indicates that a pro-diversity attitude at investment company Merrill Lynch has attracted LGBT nonprofits as clients, and now the company helps same-sex couples manage their funds.

But perhaps the most important result of all is that a changing workplace culture results in happy employees, gay or straight. Philip Adkins left law firm Arnold & Porter in 1993, but returned in 1997, citing the firm's changed policies as a factor in his return. Though same-sex couples still face discrimination in many areas, it's great to see the tide turning. A high-five to LGBT activists for helping effect the changes, and cheers all around.

By Adrienne So

Adrienne So is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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