Welcoming workplaces

In 2005 a record number of Fortune 500 companies are offering protections to gay and lesbian workers and their spouses. Here are 10 shining examples of the best employers

BY Fred Kuhr

September 25 2005 11:00 PM ET

As state and
local governments consider antigay ballot initiatives in
2005, companies are making their workplaces gay-friendlier.

The Advocate has put together its seventh
annual list of 10 great places for lesbian, gay, bisexual,
and transgender people to work. We pored over
information provided by the companies and their
employees, and we were aided by the Human Rights
Campaign’s 2005 Corporate Equality Index, which was
released in September. “The report balances the
discussion the country is having about equality for
GLBT people,” says Daryl Herrschaft, director of
HRC’s Workplace Project and author of the
index. “While we may be losing at the ballot
box, the business community is more and more on the side of
fairness and equality.”

Herrschaft notes
that the number of companies that scored a perfect 100
jumped from 56 last year to 101 this year, and more
companies are contacting HRC wanting to score 100.

Adds HRC
president Joe Solmonese: “While LGBT people struggle
for equality under the law, corporations are filling
the gaps where governments have left Americans
vulnerable.”

Keep in mind that
the following list is not meant to signify the top 10
best places for gay employees but is a sampling of 10
workplaces that understand how pro-gay policies make
for happier, more productive employees as well as a
stronger bottom line.

Gap Inc.
Revenue: $16.3 billion Number of employees:
Over 150,000 Fortune 500 rank: 130 HRC
score: 100

To be sure, Gap
Inc. is a retail behemoth, owning the Old Navy and Banana
Republic brands, but it has not forgotten its socially
progressive San Francisco roots. The company’s
antidiscrimination policy includes both sexual
orientation and gender identity. The policy applies to
employees, applicants, customers, and business
partners (including independent contractors, vendors,
and suppliers). Gap has an explicit zero-tolerance
policy toward discrimination.

Domestic partners
of employees are eligible for the same benefits
coverage as spouses of legally married employees, including
medical, dental, and vision coverage.

Additionally, Gap
has made donations through the Gap Foundation to many
gay and lesbian organizations. It has also donated to
HIV/AIDS organizations such as the San Francisco AIDS
Foundation, the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, Project
Open Hand, and the Richmond Foundation. —F.K.

General Mills
Revenue: $12.5 billion Number of
employees: 27,500 Fortune 500 rank: 197
HRC score: 100

Betty Crocker
might be a character associated with happy homemakers of
the 1950s, but she’s come a long way. And so has her
company, General Mills, which this year added gender
identity to its written antidiscrimination policy,
earning it a perfect score in HRC’s Corporate
Equality Index.

Betty Crocker
even lent her name to the company’s gay, lesbian,
bisexual, and transgender employees’ group,
Betty’s Family (a General Mills twist on the
phrase “Friends of Dorothy”).

“This is a
great company,” says gay employee Lee Anderson,
manager of state and local government relations at the
Minnesota-based corporation and a member of
Betty’s Family since he started working at General
Mills four years ago. “I feel very lucky
working for a company that values diversity the way
General Mills does.”

Betty’s
Family is one of seven diversity networks at the company;
others include the Black Champions Network, the
American Indian Council, and the Women’s Forum.
Also, a dedicated group of educators known as the
Diversity Cadre conducts sensitivity training and sponsors
events aimed at fostering awareness of cultural
differences. Special councils are also active in
championing the need for diversity throughout the company.

General Mills
added sexual orientation to its antidiscrimination policy
in the early 1990s. The company has offered domestic-partner
benefits—including medical, dental, and life
insurance—for same-sex couples since 1999.

General Mills
also supports local and regional gay and lesbian groups and
activities such as the Rainbow Families Conference, the Twin
Cities Pride festival, and District 202, a gay youth
center in Minneapolis. The company is a local sponsor
of HRC. —F.K.

GlaxoSmithKline
Revenue: $37.2 billion Total number of
employees: 100,000 Fortune 500 rank: NA
HRC score: 100

This
pharmaceutical and health care company may be based in the
United Kingdom, but its U.S. operations—in
Philadelphia and North Carolina—are
gay-friendly.

In 2000 the
company began offering benefits to same-sex couples, and its
North Carolina office has a popular support group for gay
workers that holds social events and helps with
relocation and other aspects of work and home life.

“They meet
regularly and are a pretty active group,” says
Patricia Seif, a company spokeswoman.

GSK, which
currently sells eight HIV/AIDS medications, controls an
estimated 7% of the world’s pharmaceutical market.
And one of GSK’s major community undertakings
is its Positive Action program, a global partnership
with HIV/AIDS communities that works to provide more
effective HIV education and prevention as well as enhanced
care, support, and treatment for those living with or
affected by the virus. In April, GSK contributed $1
million for a project to help reduce the stigma and
discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS in Mexico.
—Greg Hernandez

Kaiser Permanente
Revenue: $28 billion Number of
employees: 153,000, plus 12,000 physicians
Fortune 500 rank: NA HRC score: 100

As the
nation’s largest nonprofit HMO, Kaiser Permanente has
a diverse membership in nine states and the District
of Columbia. That means the company hires its fair
share of gay staff and doctors. “Members want to
see people who look like them, talk like them, and
understand their culture,” says John Edmiston,
a community relations manager for the Oakland,
Calif.–based corporation.

Edmiston is a
former president and current council member of KP Pride:
Northern California LGBT Staff Association. Each of the
organization’s regions has its own KP Pride
group. KP Pride was formed in 1993 as a vehicle for
gay and lesbian staff to lobby for domestic-partner
benefits.

Not much lobbying
was needed. The national office quickly approved a
policy allowing nonmarried partners access to health
insurance. Kaiser Permanente added sexual orientation
to its written nondiscrimination policy in 1994 and
added gender identity in 2004. The company has a
national diversity department, a national diversity council,
and regional diversity councils.

Kaiser Permanente
markets directly to gay health care consumers through
magazine advertising as well as community outreach at venues
such as local pride celebrations. The HMO also keeps
lists of providers who are not only open to but
interested in seeing LGBT clients. “So if you are
looking for a physician you can feel comfortable
with,” says Edmiston, “you can call
us.” —F.K.

Olivia Cruises and Resorts
Revenue: $14.4 million Total number of
employees: 35 Fortune 500 rank: NA HRC
score: 100

In 2002 Olivia
Cruises sold just under $7 million in exclusively gay
travel packages. Last year the company more than doubled
that revenue, and 98% of Olivia’s travelers
report that they would use the service again.
“Our groups are not mixed in with other groups.
It’s a 100% gay experience,” says Amy
Errett, chief executive officer of San
Francisco–based Olivia.

This type of
travel is important because it allows many closeted gays and
lesbians to truly be out during the trip, often for the
first time. As a result of this dramatic experience, a
special bond forms between Olivia travelers and the
company.

Olivia also
stands as a leader in terms of catering to the needs of its
employees, offering a complete range of standard benefits
for employees and partners as well as some interesting
twists: Olivia matches up to $50 in monthly public
transit costs, raffles off free parking, and takes the
entire staff out to lunch on a regular basis.

From its humble
beginnings as a record label during the 1970s, Olivia
continues to look forward to the future, planning a
retirement community, a broad-based rewards and
discount network, and continued promotion of special
events like its lesbian film festival and adventure vacation
packages. —Mike Hudson

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