The Ten Most Innovative Companies and the LGBTs Who Got Them to the Top

Our annual list of innovative companies shows the many ways LGBT people are making a difference to business.

BY Advocate Contributors

September 12 2012 4:00 AM ET

Every year, we look at the LGBT people who are making strides in their fields, pushing beyond the conventional wisdom to improve their workplaces or propel their industries forward. This year we look at 10 innovative companies, all of which have high-ranking employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Google
Megan Smith
Mountain View, Calif.

Megan Smith, 47, is the vice president for new business development at Google, making her one of the highest-ranking lesbians in a company that has earned its stripes as an inclusive innovator. Smith is a pioneer in her own right, as the former CEO of the LGBT corporation PlanetOut, before it was purchased by Here Media [The Advocate’s parent company]. Smith is also juggling work and motherhood: She and her wife, journalist Kara Swisher, have two sons, Louie, 10, and Alex, 7.

Smith’s involvement with Google began nearly 15 years ago, when PlanetOut signed on as one of Google’s earliest partners in 1998. Smith officially joined Team Google in 2003, after working with the company’s founder and key higher-ups whom she met as fellow early innovators in online technology. According to Smith, Google’s founding philosophy of innovation and creativity, and its mantra “Don’t be evil,” make the company an ideal place to work.

“It’s an amazing place not only for LGBT people but for anyone to work,” Smith says. “Anyone who wants to innovate in the world is very welcome there.”

Cementing its status as a groundbreaker, Smith points to the lead Google has taken on workplace issues, including domestic-partner benefits. In addition to offering employee benefits to domestic partners, in 2010 Google became one of the first major companies to compensate its partnered same-sex employees to offset the federal taxes imposed on spousal benefits, a practice called “grossing up.” Google crunched the numbers to discover the exact amount of this additional tax burden and then issued payments to affected employees. Several other large employers and many universities have since adopted similar policies.

Google has another particularly generous benefit for both gay and straight workers: After an active Google employee’s death, the company pays half that person’s salary to the surviving spouse or partner for 10 years. The survivor also receives immediate vesting for any stock holdings, plus children receive a $1,000 monthly payment.

“I think what we do — the products we make — are innovative,” says Smith. “But I do think that there’s something additional in that we take time to innovate how we work as much as what we work on.”

As for Google’s next innovation, Smith, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, is passionate about the power of information-sharing and wants to spread that capability to the two thirds of the global population currently without Internet access. “It sort of flattens the world in a good way,” says Smith, “where more people can access parallel experiences.… If you can get the Internet to people, they can build their own roads, they can get their own research, they can innovate and prioritize what they want to do.”

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