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Op-ed: HRC’s Corporate Equality Index Transforming American Workplaces 

Op-ed: HRC’s Corporate Equality Index Transforming American Workplaces 

1joesolmonese

With no federal nondiscrimination law and limited state protections, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Corporate Equality Index has helped transform the American workplace for the better over the past 10 years. Released today, the 2012 CEI chronicles the remarkable advances that have taken place on behalf of LGBT equality in the workplace since 2002.

In the first year of the CEI, only 13 businesses achieved a top score. This year, 190 corporations, across industries, geographies and size, will receive a 100% score on significantly more stringent criteria, including 10 of the top 20 Fortune-ranked companies. As companies compete to recruit and retain the best employees and influence consumer choices, CEI ratings have redefined the norm for how all companies treat LGBT workers and their families. The result is that the lives of millions of LGBT Americans have been made exponentially better, public acceptance of issues important to LGBT people has soared and both public and private employers of all sizes have voluntarily adopted inclusive policies.

This year's report includes the following findings:

* While the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies has become a standard since 2002, the addition of gender identity is now part of the policies of 50% of Fortune 500 companies for the first time, a growth rate of 1567% since 2002.

* The number of Fortune 500 companies offering domestic partnership benefits has increased by 76% since 2002.

* The greatest strides have come in the area of transgender-inclusive health care coverage. As a result of new criteria instituted by HRC this year that is a requisite to a perfect score, companies offering comprehensive health care coverage to their transgender workers has increased to 207 from 85 last year and 49 in 2009.

The CEI rates companies on 40 specific policies and practices, 32 of which are new or more demanding this year. To achieve a perfect score and the coveted distinction of "Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality," companies must have fully-inclusive equal employment opportunity policies, provide equal employment benefits, demonstrate organizational LGBT competency, evidence their commitment to equality publicly and exercise responsible citizenship.

Three years ago, HRC embarked on an ambitious project to raise the bar on its rating criteria so that a 100% score would reflect the "best in class" practices of LGBT inclusion in the workplace. This year's CEI tells a powerful story of American businesses working to meet that higher bar.

Beginning in 2006, the CEI credited participants if they offered at least one benefit related to gender transition. As a result, 487 companies, or 79% of participants, received credit for this category. In 2009, HRC informed companies that it would begin rating them in 2012 on equal health coverage for transgender individuals without exclusion for medically necessary care, to include sexual reassignment surgery. The fact that companies would be rated on this new criterion dramatically increased performance from 85 companies offering all of the benefits last year to 207 this year, a 144% increase.

A total of 850 businesses have been rated in the 2012 CEI, including the entire Fortune 500. Two-hundred seventy-seven Fortune 500 companies voluntarily submitted surveys; the remaining 214 were rated based upon publicly-available data. In addition, 65 Fortune 1000 companies, 134 law firms and 160 other companies voluntarily participated in the 2012 CEI. Voluntary participation in the CEI doubled since its inception. In 2002, 319 companies participated; this year 636 companies have participated.

In spite of the fact that 77% of the American public favors the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, there are no federal laws barring workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Americans can also still be fired in 29 states on the basis of their sexual orientation and in 34 states on the basis of their gender identity. According to a November 2011 HRC/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll, a staggering 87% of the American public believes that it is already illegal under federal law to fire someone for being gay and 78% believe that it is illegal under state law.

In the absence of these basic protections for LGBT people, it's clear that corporate America is leading the charge for equality in the workplace. American business understands that LGBT-inclusive workplace policies are the right thing to do as well as good business practices.

JOE SOLMONESE is president of the Human Rights Campaign.
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