How Can You Create An LGBT-Friendly Workplace?


Article from DiversityInc

“When Pfizer sought to explore ways to reach smokers with its smoking-cessation product, the pharmaceutical giant tapped its talent pool last year for ideas. Since studies indicate a higher percentage of the LGBT population smokes cigarettes than the heterosexual population, Pfizer identified leaders from within its LGBT-colleague population to partner with the multicultural-marketing department to consider a targeted outreach to LGBT smokers.

Although the business-development details are still being determined, the initiative has far-reaching benefits. “We’ll also improve health within the LGBT community,” says Wil Yates, senior manager of information analysis and co-chair of both Pfizer’s New York City–based colleague-resource group, Out Pfizer Employee Network (OPEN), and the Global LGBT Council. Pfizer is one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies this year.

An LGBT-friendly workplace has far-reaching benefits as well. DiversityInc uses inclusive criteria to determine The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity�® as well as the 12 other lists, includingThe DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees. Organizations on The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees list must:

  • Offer same-sex domestic-partner/spousal benefits
  • Have an employee-resource group aimed at LGBT employees and allies
  • Actively recruit LGBT people
  • Include content on their web sites aimed at LGBT employees and customers
  • Have a 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which has seen a 17 percent jump over the past year in U.S. businesses earning the top rating (from 260 in 2009 to 305 in 2010) despite the down economy

In addition, DiversityInc confers with respected LGBT organizations—GLSENHuman Rights Campaign and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, for example—for recommendations.

How Progressive Companies Create Welcoming Workplaces:

Leverage Employee-Resource Groups

Pfizer, the first pharmaceutical company to earn a 100 percent score on the CEI in 2004, has a global network of about 500 LGBT and allied members that has grown exponentially since being chartered in the early 2000s. (All of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies have LGBT employee-resource groups, or ERGs, versus 30 percent five years ago.)

In 2002, members of the New York, Michigan and Connecticut chapters of the LGBT group worked with the legal, HR and executive teams to institute same-sex domestic-partner or spousal benefits. Pfizer has since expanded its benefits to include gender-reassignment surgery. And with input from transgender employees who have transitioned in the workplace, OPEN is now collaborating across several departments to develop gender-transition guidelines. “It’s all about education,” says Yates.

Similarly, KPMG (No. 15 in the DiversityInc Top 50) taps its Pride ERG for advice in several critical areas, including recruiting. The group reviews all materials provided at on-campus events and conferences, noting verbiage, suggesting information pertinent to LGBT recruits and contributing testimonials. “It’s all about bringing your whole self to work—and that’s the message we want to provide to undergrads,” says Timothy Stiles, the group’s national co-chair and partner in charge of the Global Grants Program. Pride members also coach the firm’s recruiting personnel, preparing them with answers to questions job candidates may raise and “sensitizing them to LGBT issues [including micro-inequities],” says Stiles. KPMG was the first Big Four accounting firm to have a comprehensive policy for transgender employees and is No. 6 on The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees list.

But creating an environment where openness flourishes requires leadership commitment, notes Pfizer’s Chief Diversity Officer Karen Boykin-Towns. “Our chairman and CEO is a real advocate … for all diversity, but particularly in this space,” she says, adding that the executive sponsor of the Pfizer Global LGBT Network reports directly to the CEO. “The work OPEN is doing throughout the company is making it more comfortable for people to come out.”

Include LGBT Leaders in Business Development

Openly out leaders often provide effective and valuable insights where “traditional outreach might not be so successful,” says Boykin-Towns.
Developing these leaders, however, is key. American Express (No. 12 in the DiversityInc Top 50) is planning an employee leadership-development summit this fall to help train and enable several members of its Pride and other networks to take on decision-making roles. American Express—whose national Pride network has eight chapters and about 1,000 members (including 50 from the recently launched chapter in Mexico)—will be hosting this collaborative leadership event with Johnson & Johnson (No. 2) and Aetna (No. 30).

Endorse LGBT Events and Causes

A consistent commitment to sponsor pride events and LGBT nonprofits helps foster a positive brand identity. Consider the corporate partners of GLSEN, a national education organization that works to ensure safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. They include Wells Fargo & Co. (No. 43), KPMGCisco Systems (No. 37), American ExpressAT&T (No. 3) and IBM (No. 8)—well-respected companies that have also earned spots on this year’s DiversityInc Top 50 list. Pfizer and American Express were also recently recognized by GLSEN at its Respect Awards in New York City.

American Express has taken the event-endorsement strategy to a new level. The merchant-services division, responsible for signing on retailers to accept the American Express credit card, paired up with members of its UK chapter of Pride in the weeks prior to the annual corporate-sponsored Stonewall Equality Walk. Together, they canvassed hundreds of merchants in Brighton, a popular LGBT community about an hour outside London, and asked each to display a Stonewall Equality Walk decal with the American Express logo in their windows. “So now it’s not just our service reps having a conversation with a merchant,” says Peraino. “They have a Pride employee who can talk about the importance of that walk, the community and the fact that we as a company support it. It creates a different conversation—a relationship-building conversation.”

The result: 89 percent of the visited merchants agreed to display the decal, and American Express (also No. 8 in The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees) signed on four new merchants. The company is brainstorming ways to apply this and other LGBT-focused strategies in the United States.

Pipeline initiatives are equally important. Each year at Pfizer, for instance, up to 10 employeesmentor at-risk LGBT students who attend the Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan.

Add LGBT-Owned Business Suppliers

Pfizer’s diversity-leadership team has partnered with the procurement department to expand contract-bidding opportunities to LGBT-owned enterprises. Earlier this year, vendors certified by theNational Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce were added to the company’s supplier database, and Pfizer has already contracted new business to a lesbian-owned marketing-communications company.

Likewise, American Express has been building a database of LGBT-owned suppliers and, with its recently announced head of procurement, will begin opening up contract opportunities to these vendors for products and services. In the LGBT community, “supplier diversity really makes a difference,” says Peraino. “We’re going to make sure the focus gets shined on that within the coming year.”

Start a Diversity Dialogue

Having an LGBT-friendly company has an added benefit: It helps form an affinity with allied groups. Four years ago, when Pfizer introduced its Pride Journal (a collection of heartfelt first-person accounts written by LGBT or allied employees that’s posted on its intranet during the month of June), a healthy dialogue on sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination was started. “That really put issues of LGBT rights on the map for our broader colleague population,” says Nicholas Patrick, manager of worldwide communications and co-chair of both OPEN and the Pfizer Global LGBT Council.

Similarly, when American Express rolled out its global branding campaign that featured, among other stars, lesbian talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, it became an instant hit with all consumers. So for all corporate leaders who fear the backlash of aligning the business with the LGBT community, take a tip from Peraino: “There really is no downside.”

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