The non-profit’s evaluation of companies practices spurs hundreds of businesses nationwide to be more accountable to their GLBT employees, while giving consumers tools to make more informed decisions about where they spend their money.
For the past decade, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index has helped promote equality and accountability to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees in hundreds of workplaces across the country.
The Index, which started in 2002, has helped change the dialogue about equality in the country, where fair-minded practices are not only good for business, but improve people’s lives.
With a smartphone app and online buyer’s guide that show ratings of companies’ practices and employee benefits, consumers and prospective employees can make more cognizant decisions about which businesses to buy from and work for.
Since its inception, The Index, which takes into account a voluntary survey and publicly available information like tax filings to evaluate equity in policies and employee benefits, has doubled the amount of businesses officially rated.
In its first year, The Index rated 319 businesses, where 13 earned a perfect score. This year 636 employers were rated and 190 received 100 percent, according to the 2012 Index report.
Thirteen Minnesota-based companies, including 3M, Cargill, Best Buy, General Mills and UnitedHealth Group, received 100 percent on the 2012 Index.
This year, the Index added new regulations to its 40 criteria to provide equal benefits for same-sex partners and spouses, end benefits discrimination for transgender employees and dependents, show company-wide competency on GLBT issues, and exhibit a public commitment to the GLBT community.
The Index has helped make large strides in workplace equality and continues to drive progress, according to Michael Cole-Schwartz, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of communications.
“The Corporate Equality Index has been trans-formative in the way that corporate America has viewed GLBT issues,” Cole-Schwartz said. “Over the years it has evolved itself and has expanded so we continue to raise the bar.”
The Human Rights Campaign will continue to improve The Index, with an emphasis on supporting the needs of transgender employees, who still face many health insurance exclusions, according to Cole-Schwartz.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which funds the Corporate Equality Index, helped push five times as many major U.S. employers to offer transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage, from 49 in the 2009 Index to more than 200 in the 2012 Index.
The Index promotes fair practices within a business, but for a business to get a perfect score, it has to show it supports the GLBT community as a whole.
Cole-Schwartz said that major corporations who take part in the Corporate Equality Index have the sway to steer dialogue of policymakers and the general public.
“It’s interesting that corporate America, which is generally viewed as a tremendously conservative institution in our county, has been leading the charge in the fight for equality,” Cole-Schwartz said.
And more companies take part in the Index every year; adding 36 in the 2012 Index from the previous year, which, Cole-Schwartz said, is partially the result of “the competitive nature of business.”
He added, “If your competitors are participating and proud of a good score, it’s an incentive for you to do it.”
With the majority of Fortune 500 companies taking part in the survey, Cole- Schwartz explained, it seems more possible to pass legislation like the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which would nationally ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in hiring and employee benefits.
Since 1994, versions of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act have been introduced in nearly every Congress, most recently in the House of Representatives in April 2011.
Cole-Schwartz emphasized that is important to think of The Index not just in how many perfect ratings, but through the employees affected.
“Through that lens…that really does show how people’s lives can made better by their employers,” Cole-Schwartz said.
But with no nationwide ban on all discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there are still improvements to be made.
Currently, employees and job applicants can legally be discriminated against for
their sexual orientation in 29 states and for their gender identity in 34 states.
Minnesota is among 16 total states that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
ING, an Amsterdam-based financial service company, has received a perfect score for 6 out of the 8 years it has taken part in the Index.
Phil Margolis, an ING spokesperson, said the Human Rights Campaign’s survey gives the company an opportunity to review its practices.
Margolis said, “As an organization, we want to be a place where people want to come to work every day, to feel comfortable to express their opinion and comfortable to be who they are every day.”
ING works with their GLBT employee resource group to best serve every employee, Margolis said.
“[The GLBT employee resource group] is a resource we tap on a regular basis to provide feedback for not only for our internal environment, but for the business itself,” Margolis said.
Additionally, the Index has helped ING improve accountability to its customer base, where it can target the GLBT community with existing products, meaning possible financial benefits from taking part in the survey.
Nationally, ING works with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and, locally, with the Quorum in Minneapolis to identify the needs and issues concerning their GLBT employees.
The Human Rights Campaign’s effort seems to line up with the work of GLBT advocacy groups in Minnesota.
Project 515 is “fully supportive” of the goals of the Corporate Equality Index and would encourage companies to take part, according to Eric Jensen, communications director for Project 515.
Jensen said The Index’s stringent requirements, like taking into account community involvement, provide a big picture of how companies take care of their GLBT employees and customers.
Jensen said there are tangible benefits to being a fair-minded employer.
“The overall value is that we know that companies that treat all of their employees fairly and equally, are able to attract a more diverse and talented employee pool,” Jensen said. “Employees are more happy and they are more productive.”
Jensen said a major value of The Index is that it is a tool to gauge progress in Minnesota and nationwide.
“It is a measure that helps us see that we are moving in the right direction,” Jensen said. “And big companies that are important to the economy are moving us in the right direction.”