If you’re looking for progress on creating a more just, inclusive society—it’s not always going to come from elected officials or the courts.
Not long ago, big corporations were probably one of the last places you’d look. Now it’s getting harder to find big companies who aren’t actively trying to appeal to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers, and customers.
This year, six Pittsburgh-headquartered companies scored 100% on the Corporate Equality Index, ranking them among the “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign. They come from a wide variety of industries, including law firms, retail clothing, banking, and health insurance.
Highmark, American Eagle Outfitters, PNC Financial Services Group, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney PC, K&L Gates LLP and Reed Smith LLP got top scores, among 22 total companies statewide to be honored.
“I think it’s very important—inclusion is like anything else in business; you need benchmarks,” says Daniel Winterfeldt, the London-based Senior Advisor for Diversity & Inclusion at Pittsburgh-based multinational law firm Reed Smith. “Without the data, you don’t know what your performance is like. If you have an outside third-party index, you do. It’s a great indicator for our clients to see us compared to others, he said.
This was one of the reasons he chose Reed Smith, actually.
“The firm has a very open and inclusive culture,” says Winterfeldt. “Everybody says that—but are there ‘out’ LGBT people (working there)? I just joined the firm a few months ago, and this was something that’s important to me.”
In 2002, the first year that the Human Rights Campaign compiled the Corporate Equality Index, only 13 got a perfect score, nationwide. By 2005, the number exceeded 100. Meanwhile, new standards were being set for domestic partner benefits and insurance for transgender employees.
“Points were awarded in the 2017 index for the following categories: equal employment opportunity policies, employment benefits, organization LGBT competency, and public commitment,” explains Lonie Haynes, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion for Highmark Health.
“The Human Rights Campaign will sometimes assign an organization a ranking based on what they see, but we hadn’t participated until this year,” says Susan Yohe, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney PC. “We felt that was no longer acceptable. We wanted to stand as a company that was welcoming and supportive, and felt this was an important part of sending that signal.”
The criteria range from avoiding negative stereotypes—of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression—in advertising, to offering equal benefit plans to all employees.
“We’ve always provided (domestic) partner benefits,” says Yohe. “We’ve also started offering coverage under our health insurance for transgender people, things unique to the transition process. That was driven by the fact that we had an employee transition over the past year.
“In fact, when we had an employee announce that he was going to transition to female; of course, we wondered what the reaction would be. But we set about putting in place everything that needed to be done. There’s lots of little things—like when a person transitions to a different gender, they need a new name tag on their door and a new email address.”
Reed Smith has a program in conjunction with BNY Mellon, that helps with this specific set of problems.
“The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund Name Change Project—where you help men and women with getting their names changed,” says Winterfeldt. “People think it’s about doing it all in one place, but you have to change your name with all your banks, your passport, everything. People need a lot of help. But getting that first new passport is a big deal.”
It’s kind of hard to do better than 100%, but the Human Rights Campaign revisits the criteria every few years. What was enough for a perfect score this year might not do it in the future.
The rules don’t tend to favor any particular industries. Still, some companies can do things that others can’t.
“Our global Chair of Litigation (at Reed Smith), Raymond Cardozo, argued a pro bono case for privacy rights for an LGBT client at the Supreme Court,” notes Winterfeldt.