Care about the community? Prove it.

Equality in the workplace is just good business, many companies say. But demonstrating a commitment to the livelihood of gay and lesbian workers by supporting their causes also is crucial. Indeed, the HRC’s third revision of its corporate index policy mandates several outreach elements to achieve a 100% rating, such as philanthropic support of gay groups, choosing suppliers with progressive policies, and voicing support for pro-gay legislation.

Setting up such programs is not always an easy task for a publicly traded company with shareholders of every political stripe, but many corporations have nonetheless made their position clear. Last year Pacific Gas & Electric Co. created a group, cochaired by Levi Strauss & Co., to encourage other businesses to oppose California’s Proposition 8. Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and other blue-chip companies have all previously expressed support for a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (a new version of the bill that includes sexual orientation plus gender identity and expression currently is before both houses of Congress).

Harrah’s Entertainment, the world’s largest gaming company, with 2008 revenues of $10.1 billion, recently used its clout to persuade Nevada legislators to pass a domestic-partnership bill (Las Vegas Strip rivals MGM Mirage and Wynn Resorts joined Harrah’s in the lobbying effort). “We are concerned that there will be a negative economic impact” if the bill fails, Jan L. Jones, Harrah’s senior vice president of communications and government relations, wrote in a letter to state legislators. “With an overwhelming majority (75%) of Americans who feel that same-sex couples should, at a minimum, have domestic partner benefits, we are sending other states the wrong message: that our state cares about protecting its visitors over giving its residents very basic rights and benefits.” In May the Nevada state assembly overrode a veto of the bill by Gov. Jim Gibbons; the law takes effect October 1.

In the Midwest, executives at Columbus, Ind.–based Cummins, a maker of engines, power generation systems, and related technologies, have been outspoken critics of efforts to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage in the state. The ban “would send an unwelcoming message, not only to the LGBT community but also to anyone in an underrepresented demographic considering employment with our company,” says spokesman Blair Claflin, global diversity communications manager. A workforce that reflects the cultural makeup of the markets where Cummins operates helps maintain contracts, he asserts. And the company’s advocacy has moved beyond the political: Cummins played an integral role with other regional companies in the July launch of a central Indiana chapter of Out & Equal, a nonprofit addressing LGBT workplace issues.

Pharmaceutical giant Merck also has taken an active role in working with gay and lesbian nonprofits. Aside from offering equal spousal benefits, including adoption assistance and health care, to all of its 60,000-plus employees, Merck has partnerships with Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays as well as the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. PFLAG helps develop and facilitate trainings with Merck employees, while the company taps GLSEN to teach children about the impact of school bullying at company-sponsored public events.

As part of its supplier diversity program, Coca-Cola seeks out certified gay-owned businesses, and it limits its suppliers to those that protect employees through either an equal employment opportunity or nondiscrimination policy. The company also partners with other national and local organizations to establish and endow scholarships and sponsor conventions and meetings.

Tags: Business