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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
September 21, 2007

New survey says workplace
continues to get friendlier

Washington, D.C.--Major American corporations are becoming more and more supportive of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, says a new report.

A record 195 companies nationwide achieved 100% in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2008 Corporate Equality Index, compared to 138 last year and only 13 in the first report five years ago. Additionally, the number of areas the companies are scored in has increased each year.

The report, released September 18, rates major corporations on their LGBT-affirming policies in hiring, non-discrimination, equality in benefits, marketing policies and advertising.

The 195 top scorers have approximately 8,318,000 full time employees between them.

Among the 519 employers rated, the average score was 81 percent, compared to 70 percent the previous year. The standards for rating the companies also gets tougher every year.

Major Ohio corporations also fared better with two more achieving the 100 percent score.

Banking conglomerate Key Corp. of Cleveland and retailer Macy’s Inc. of Cincinnati joined clothier Abercrombie and Fitch of New Albany, insurance underwriter Nationwide of Columbus, and electronics and security firm NCR of Dayton as top scorers.

Glass manufacturer Owens Corning of Toledo slipped a notch to a 95 percent rating because it does not offer a transgender wellness benefit. This was an area not scored last year.

Nationally, the same three zero scores were back from past years--oil company Exxon-Mobil, the world’s largest corporation; Perot Systems, the data management company run by two-time presidential candidate H. Ross Perot; and grocery chain Meijer of Grand Rapids, Michigan, that has a major presence in Ohio.

Other Ohio companies rated are AmTrust Bank of Cleveland with 75 percent; Cooper Tire and Rubber of Findlay with 33 percent; Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati with 60 percent; National City Corp. of Cleveland with 58 percent; Procter and Gamble of Cincinnati with 85 percent; and Progressive Corp. of Mayfield Village with 65 percent.

Ohio’s lowest rated company in the survey is Toledo automotive supplier Dana Corp. with 20 percent, down from 35 percent last year.

Grocery retailer Kroger of Cincinnati raised their score to 75 percent from last year’s 35 percent, largely because they started offering domestic partner benefits.

Kroger’s improvement was spotlighted at HRC’s national conference call releasing the study.

Daryl Herrschaft, who heads the Workplace Project that conducted the study,  said that Kroger was one of the top improvers nationally. The company did it by making overall diversity one of its strategic focal points and hiring a diversity officer.

Over the years, Kroger has had a mixed record on LGBT issues, including an incident in March that nearly caused the chain to be boycotted when stores in Nashville, Tennessee removed the LGBT newspaper Out and About from their free publication racks. They have since reversed the decision.

In the late 1990s Kroger sparked protests when it attempted to keep HIV-infected children out of store play areas.

In Ohio, Kroger has financially supported both LGBT causes, including the repeal of the anti-gay Article 12 from Cincinnati’s charter in 2004, and anti-LGBT causes including the Christian Business Network in southwest Ohio, which promotes, among other things, Citizens for Community Values of Sharonville and the anti-LGBT publication Citizen USA.

Dayton LGBT activists have protested that Kroger stores there distribute the Christian Blue Pages, a publication that urges people to avoid businesses that are not “Christian enough,” but won’t allow LGBT publications.

“That’s why I put an asterisk beside Kroger,” said Herrschaft, adding that the survey best measures the corporations’ relationship to their employees, but sometimes falls short on what individuals do, and what corporate leaders do.

Another corporation that is similarly situated is the Colorado brewer Coors, which scored 100 percent. But that does not reflect its relationship with the Castle Rock Foundation, founded in 1993 by Coors family members to separate their right-wing political activity from their company.

In 2005, Castle Rock contributed $2.4 million to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups, including $50,000 to the Federalist Society, which promotes anti-LGBT, “strict constructionist” legal theories, and $60,000 to Landmark Legal, an anti-LGBT law firm.

Another area of improvement is that 58 percent of the companies now protect transgender workers.

HRC legislative director Allison Herwitt said the findings should help influence Congress to pass the LGBT Employment Non-Discrimination Act by showing the government that it is falling behind large corporate employers.           



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