Pathways to success

By Jeremy Quittner

Originally published on Advocate.com October 08 2001 12:00 AM ET

Work is a serious
issue for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
But choosing the right job is often a complicated task,
especially for those who aren’t part of the
straight world. Who, after all, wants to work in a
homophobic environment?

Especially now,
with the U.S. economy on tenterhooks and company after
company laying off employees, gay people may not feel like
they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to
choosing the right business setting.

There is some
good news, however. This year has seen steady advances for
gay people in corporate environments. Today, according to
the Human Rights Campaign, 146 of U.S. Fortune 500
companies have same-sex domestic-partner benefits and
295 have written nondiscrimination policies that
include sexual orientation. What’s more, five U.S.
Fortune 500 companies now officially acknowledge
transgendered workers in their nondiscrimination
policies—improving on 2000’s three.

“Generally, while it may be less of a buyer’s
market in terms of people’s ability to pick and
choose as a result of the economy, we continue to see
rapid progress with nondiscrimination policies and
domestic-partner benefits,” says Kim I. Mills,
education director for the Washington,
D.C.–based HRC, which produces Worknet, an annual
report on how well U.S. corporations address issues
such as discrimination and domestic-partner benefits
for gay and lesbian employees.

Additionally,
many U.S. businesses are showing a greater willingness to
go beyond just offering domestic-partner health benefits and
nondiscrimination policies. Some are now offering complete
benefits packages to same-sex couples that are equal
to those they offer married couples, including
financial assistance for adoptions and paid family
leave, or paying to relocate an employee’s same-sex
spouse.

“There has
been a sea change in the last year, and companies you never
expected to be on board are now very aware,” says
Joseph McCormack, founder and managing partner of
McCormack and Associates, a Los Angeles–based
executive-search consultancy specializing in diversity
recruiting. “As a younger generation rises to
positions of authority in these companies and as they
bring in executive talent from other, more progressive
industries, their culture is changing.”

Not to say there
aren’t still some sticking points. Transgender
protections are a significant stumbling block, says Grant
Lukenbill, who has authored four books about corporate
responsibility. “We can’t afford to have
the transgender community dismissed as the stepchildren of
the gay community,” he says, adding that in
corporate consciousness, “Gender expression is
just beginning to get attention and get its roots.”

With these
thoughts in mind, The Advocate has compiled a list of
10 good places for gay men and lesbians to work, adding to a
list of 35 companies from years past and using as a
starting point the research of HRC’s Worknet as
well as the Gay and Lesbian Values Index, a 10-point
corporate annual rating system formulated by Lukenbill. Some
of the criteria Lukenbill uses to determine a
corporation’s score are whether the company has
a written nondiscrimination policy for sexual
orientation; whether the company offers same-sex
domestic-partner health care benefits; and whether it
supports antigay groups or groups seeking to repeal
legislative protections for gay people.

The following is
not meant to be a list of the 10 best places in the
United States to work. It is meant to be a list of 10
corporations that have made significant advances in
their attitudes toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and
transgendered employees.

AOL Time Warner
New York City 2000 Revenues: $36.2 billion
combined Employees: 88,000 U.S.
Fortune 500 ranking: Does not apply

The recently
merged media giant, whose vast holdings include HBO and the
world’s largest Internet access provider, America
Online, also has a rich benefits package and workplace
protections for its gay and lesbian employees. The
company’s benefits for couples in same-sex domestic
partnerships are equal to those for heterosexual married
couples. Besides medical care, they include an
adoption assistance benefit of up to $5,000, family
leave of up to 16 weeks, and bereavement leave. The
company’s written nondiscrimination policy includes
sexual orientation, though it does not explicitly
include gender identity. Despite chairman Steve
Case’s personal $8.53 million donation to the
Christian-right, antigay Westminster Academy in Fort
Lauderdale, Fla., the company itself supports a wide
range of gay and lesbian charities, including Gay
Men’s Health Crisis and the Mautner Project for
lesbians with cancer. Time Warner was an early
supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Avaya
Basking Ridge, N.J. Fiscal 2000 Revenues:
$7.4 billion Employees: 23,000 U.S.
Fortune 500 Ranking: Does not apply

The computer
network spin-off from Lucent Technologies has the rare
distinction of scoring a perfect 10 in Lukenbill’s
GLV Index. That’s in part because its written
nondiscrimination policy includes “gender
identity, characteristics, or expression.” The
company says it actively recruits gay and lesbian
employees and includes sexual orientation and gender
identity in its management diversity training. Its
domestic-partner benefits are at parity with the benefits
offered heterosexual married couples. It sponsors an
on-site corporate gay group.

Donna Karan International
New York City 2000 Revenues: $662.7
million Employees: 1,720 U.S. Fortune
500 ranking: Does not apply

The queen of
retail chic was among the first in the fashion industry to
include domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples and
to have a written nondiscrimination policy for sexual
orientation. The company grants 12 weeks of paid
family leave to members of same-sex couples as well as
bereavement leave. The company actively supports AIDS and
breast cancer organizations, and it advertises in the
gay press.

General Motors
Detroit 2000 Revenues: $184.6 billion
Employees: 372,000 U.S. Fortune 500 ranking: 3

Though the
automobile manufacturing giant has had a written
nondiscrimination policy including sexual orientation since
1992 and clarified the policy in 1998, it
didn’t start offering same-sex domestic-partner
benefits until 2000, when the Big Three automakers
jointly decided to offer them. Though such benefits today
are limited to dental and health care, the company
says it is reviewing the discrepancy between its other
corporate benefits for married couples that don’t
apply to domestic partners. The company’s gay
and lesbian group, GM Plus, meets on-site and receives
financial support from GM. GM also donates to causes
concerning AIDS and breast cancer as well as to local gay
organizations, and it ceased giving money to the Boy
Scouts of America in 1999 because of the BSA’s
ban on gay members and troop leaders.

Gillette
Boston 2000 Revenues: $9.3 billion
Employees: 33,000 U.S. Fortune 500 ranking: 188

The manufacturer
of razor blades and other grooming supplies has a
written nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual
orientation and offers domestic-partner benefits for
same-sex couples equaling those for straight couples.
These include financial assistance for adoptions,
family and bereavement leave, and relocation benefits.
Gillette actively supports AIDS organizations, breast
cancer groups, and the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus.
Gillette financially supports its corporate gay group,
which meets on-site.

Lillian Vernon
Rye, N.Y. Fiscal 2001 Revenues: $287.1
million Employees: 1,500 (year-round)
U.S. Fortune 500 ranking: Does not apply

The catalog giant
for home furnishings, gardening, and children’s goods
has a written nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual
orientation, full domestic-partner benefits for
same-sex couples, and openly gay people at all levels
of company management. The Lillian Vernon Foundation,
which is Vernon’s personal organization and is not
affiliated with the company, frequently donates to
AIDS organizations and other gay causes as well as
breast cancer groups. (One of Vernon’s sons, former
employee Fred Hochberg, is openly gay. He was a cochairman
of HRC and was named the Small Business
Administration’s deputy administrator in 1998
under President Clinton.)

Merrill Lynch
New York City 2000 Revenues: $44.9
billion Employees: 49,100 (U.S.) U.S.
Fortune 500 ranking: 25

In addition to a
sexual orientation–inclusive nondiscrimination policy
and domestic-partner benefits equal to those offered to
married couples—including financial assistance
for adoptions—Merrill Lynch has openly gay
employees at some of the highest levels of management.
Though a serious strike against the company is its
continued support of the Boy Scouts, which it defends
on the basis of protecting diversity, the company
financially supports its gay and lesbian employee group and
sponsors AIDS charities, Lambda Legal Defense and Education
Fund, breast cancer organizations, and the AIDS quilt.

Motorola
Schaumburg, Ill. 2000 Revenues: $37.6
billion Employees: 115,000 U.S.
Fortune 500 ranking: 34

The
communications technology giant has a nondiscrimination
policy that includes sexual orientation as well as a
package of medical, dental, and relocation benefits
for the same-sex domestic partners of employees. Last
year the company set up the Gay and Lesbian Business Council
to support GLBT employees and reach out to gays and
lesbians through advertising, employment recruiting,
and community involvement. Motorola has supported
numerous gay and gay-friendly organizations, including the
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, workplace
advocacy group Out and Equal, and many local AIDS
walks and gay pride celebrations across the country.

Shell Oil
Houston 2000 Revenues: $29 billion
Employees: 11,000 U.S. Fortune 500 ranking: Does
not apply

Unlike competitor
ExxonMobil, Shell has continued to stand by its
domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples, first
offered in 1998, as well as its written
nondiscrimination policy for sexual orientation,
introduced in 1996. Its management diversity training often
includes sexual orientation, and a company spokesman
says Shell recently offered management support for an
employee preparing for a sex-change operation. Shell
sponsors the company’s gay employee organization, and
it supports local gay and lesbian groups as well as
HRC and national breast cancer organizations.

Working Assets
San Francisco 2000 Revenues: $140
million Employees: About 100 U.S.
Fortune 500: Does not apply

This privately
owned politically activist telecommunications company uses
its long-distance telephone service and Working Assets
credit card to raise revenues for a wide range of
social and political causes as well as to generate a
profit for itself. In the past it has donated to the Gay,
Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, International Gay
and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and HRC, among
other gay and lesbian groups. About one third of the
Working Assets staff is gay, says president Michael
Kieschnick. The company has a nondiscrimination policy that
includes sexual orientation, full domestic-partner benefits,
and diversity training that includes sexual
orientation and covers both same-sex and opposite-sex
sexual harassment.