From the May 2011 issue of Treasury & Risk magazine

Work Equality Advances

As LGBT workers and consumers gain more clout, companies seek to improve their policies and benefits.

Many large and successful companies nowadays offer same-sex partner health benefits and other policies friendly to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees. And some are going the extra mile—not only seeking more fulfilled and productive workers but also trying to cater to increasingly visible and influential households. LGBT consumers represent a whopping $769 billion in buying power this year, up from $743 billion in 2009, according to Witeck-Combs Communi-cations, a marketing firm specializing in gay and lesbian consumers, and MarketResearch.com.

“Buying power is one measure by which we understand the total contribution of the gay community,” says Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs. “They’re also shareholders, executives, labor organizers and families that exist throughout every aspect of our economy, and companies take them into account for all these roles they play, including leadership or management potential.”

In 2002, only 13% of companies ranked by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) achieved a Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality score of 100%. Today, more than 55% of the 616 companies HRC rates boast a perfect score.

A full 95% of companies rated by HRC now offer same-sex partner health benefits, and 99% bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. Among Fortune 500 companies, about 57% offer same-sex partner benefits, and roughly 85% have sexual orientation nondiscrimination policies.

“We’ve really raised the bar [by creating] a benchmark incenting businesses to engage on LGBT policy,” says Eric Bloem, a deputy director of HRC’s workplace project.

Some companies are setting the bar higher by offering policies geared toward transgender employees—those whose public identity does not conform to conventional male and female roles.

Transgender workers include those presenting gender identity disorders, and insurance policies tend to exclude coverage for such disorders. Yet in 2010, at least 85 companies’ health benefits included such treatments when deemed medically necessary, says Bloem.

So far the threat of litigation has not been a key factor in LGBT-friendly policies. Witeck notes that only a minority of states have rules upon which workers can stake a claim if they feel their workplace is hostile.

He argues the benefits changes reflect companies’ efforts to hire the most qualified workers. “It makes perfect business sense to treat all employees equally, whether or not the law or even a whiff of litigation insists upon it,” Witeck says.

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