Lockheed Martin Corp., the nation's largest defense contractor, has reversed course and added sexual orientation as one of the characteristics covered by its antidiscrimination policy. The company, based in Bethesda, Md., also said it will offer health benefits to the domestic partners of its gay employees.
In an E-mail message sent to the company's 125,000 employees on Thursday, Vance D. Coffman, Lockheed's chief executive, said the decision was made by the company's executive council, which he convened this year to address questions of diversity.
"I ask you to give your unwavering support to a company that values the contributions of all employees," Coffman wrote. Lockheed's board recommended last year that shareholders reject a proposal, developed by Swarthmore College student Morgan Simon, to add sexual orientation to its antidiscrimination policies. Shareholders voted to reject the proposal.
Lockheed spokeswoman Meghan Mariman said the company decided not to embrace the idea at the time of the shareholders' vote last year because company officials did not think it was necessary. "We chose not to change our policy because we felt we didn't need to list every single way our employees are different," Mariman said. Lockheed's position changed, she said, because so many of the company's competitors--including Honeywell International, Boeing Co., Raytheon Co., International Business Machines Corp. and Microsoft Corp.--added sexual orientation policies and domestic-partner benefits and Lockheed began to worry that it would lose valuable employees to them.
In August, Lockheed received a 0 rating from the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C-based gay rights group. The group said the company's antidiscrimination policies were inadequate to meet the needs of its gay employees. Kim Mills, the group's education director, said many gay employees at Lockheed are "ecstatic" with news of the reversal. "We've gotten E-mails peppered with exclamation points," she said.