Tempting gay employees

By Jeremy Quittner

Originally published on Advocate.com October 10 2000 12:00 AM ET

Given that most people spend more than half their weekday waking hours on the job, deciding where to work can be one of the most difficult decisions to make. The choice can be even more complicated for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. After all, it’s emotionally and intellectually draining to hide who you are or to work in a homophobic environment.

Now, however, gay workers are in something of a buyers’ market. Though many companies still have a long way to go in fostering an atmosphere of inclusion, many others have made important strides over the last few years, offering domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples and including written nondiscrimination policies for sexual orientation in their corporate statements. “In this tight job market, people are seeking out companies that offer domestic-partner benefits, knowing it is a place that welcomes everybody,” says Selisse Berry, executive director of the Pride Collaborative, a gay and lesbian work association in San Francisco.

There are a number of resources for figuring out which company is right for you. Grant Lukenbill, an author whose titles include Smart Spending: The Gay and Lesbian Guide to Socially Responsible Shopping and Investing, compiles a yearly list that rates some of the largest companies in the United States, which he calls the glvIndex, or gay-lesbian values index. It ranks private companies on a ten-point scale that takes into account whether the company includes sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy, has same-sex domestic-partner benefits, and does not support groups that oppose passage of rights protections for gays and lesbians, among other things.

Beyond that, Lukenbill says, it is also vital to consider the company’s overall values. “It is important to consider not only if it is a great place to work but also if it’s making great products and if it’s listening to its investors,” says Lukenbill. “Those three things must work together equally.”

Likewise, the Human Rights Campaign, as part of its yearly report on the U.S. workplace, keeps an ongoing list of private and public companies and organizations, in addition to state and federal governments and agencies, that provide domestic-partner benefits and that have written policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Last year The Advocate presented a list of 25 gay-friendly companies. Among the main criteria used to determine which companies to include were whether the companies had (or were working toward) domestic-partner benefits, a sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy, and education on sexual orientation issues.

The following is a list of ten additional companies that have made significant strides in those three areas. It is not intended to be a list of the ten best companies—only ten more good ones to add to last year’s list.

AT&T New York City 1999 Sales: $62.4 billion Employees: 151,000 Fortune 500 Ranking: 8

AT&T was one of the first Fortune 500 companies to have a written sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy. The firm stood up to religious conservatives who attempted to boycott the company in the mid 1990s for its nondiscrimination policy. AT&T was also a pioneer in targeting advertisements to the gay and lesbian community.

Oracle Redwood City, CA Sales: $10.1 billion Employees: 41,320 Fortune 500 Ranking:195

One of the largest manufacturers of computer software, Oracle was an early supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the federal bill that would ban antigay workplace discrimination, as well as AIDS and breast cancer organizations. The company even pays for its corporate gay group to march in the San Francisco gay pride parade.

Prudential Newark, N.J. 1999 Sales: $25.7 billion Employees: 50,000 Fortune 500 Ranking: 48

Prudential has domestic-partner benefits that allow all employees to add a second adult to their benefits packages. The insurer also supports a full roster of AIDS charities and other gay and lesbian causes. It also has a corporate gay pride month in which members of the board actively participate.

Reebok Stoughton, Mass. 1999 Sales: $2.9 billion Employees: 6,500

According to Lukenbill, Reebok was the first sports-shoe manufacturer to offer domestic-partner benefits to same-sex employees. The company has also avoided the overseas labor abuses of some of its competitors. It is affiliated with gay rights groups, and it sponsors gay and lesbian service groups. Additionally, it advertises in the gay and lesbian press.

Scholastic New York City Fiscal 2000 Sales: $1.4 billion Employees: 9,600

Scholastic is the publisher of educational and children’s books, including the Harry Potter series. Its stock is held by the progressive Meyers Pride Value Fund mutual fund. The company offers full domestic-partner benefits and has a written nondiscrimination policy.

Starbucks Seattle Fiscal 2000 Revenues: $1.7 billion Employees: 37,000

The latte giant actively supports its gay and lesbian employee group. In addition to a written nondiscrimination policy, it provides health benefits to all of its employees working 20 hours or more a week, including same-sex domestic-partner benefits. The company displays a portion of the AIDS quilt at its corporate headquarters.

Subaru of America Cherry Hill, N.J. (corporate parent located in Tokyo) Total Fiscal 1999 Revenues: $11.3 billion Employees: 14,995 worldwide

Before the Detroit automakers fell in line, Subaru of America was the first car manufacturer in the United States to institute domestic-partner benefits, in May 2000. The company has conducted gay-oriented advertising campaigns and is consequently one of the most popular cars among American lesbians. Subaru sponsors Visa’s Rainbow credit card, which donates a portion of profits to gay organizations.

Sun Microsystems Palo Alto, Calif. Fiscal 2000 Sales (preliminary figures): $15.7 billion Employees: 29,000 Fortune 500 ranking: 150

The computer hardware manufacturer that brought us Java software was a sponsor of the 2000 San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (as were Prudential and Wells Fargo) and the San Jose Gay Pride 2000 parade. The company actively recruits gay and lesbian employees, and the gay and lesbian group has an internal corporate Web site. The human resources office has helped employees who want to change genders get counseling support.

Wainwright Bank and Trust Boston 1999 Assets: $376 million Employees: 106

One of the nation’s most progressive banks, Wainwright has offered domestic-partner benefits since 1994. It also convinced the Massachusetts Bankers Association health insurance group to offer the benefits to its 160 member banks. It owns 30% of Trillium Asset Management, a progressive investment fund involved in overturning antigay corporate policies nationwide. Half of the bank’s officers are women, and 40% of its directors are minorities. It has the only openly lesbian board member of any publicly traded bank in the country.

Wells Fargo San Francisco 1999 Assets: $218 billion Employees: 103,052 Fortune 500 Ranking: 68

Wells Fargo is listed in the Domini Social Index, a stock portfolio of socially responsible companies, along with AT&T, Reebok, Scholastic, Starbucks, and Sun Microsystems. The bank conglomerate has run ad campaigns aimed at gay and lesbian audiences. It provides support to its gay and lesbian employee group, though groups of any kind were allowed to form only a year ago. The bank also supports the volunteer efforts of its gay and lesbian employees outside the bank, and its diversity training includes sexual orientation.