#53: Love em' or Hate em' - Why you need to know about the HRC's Corporate Equality Index [Podcast] - Jenn T. Grace—Book Publisher, Speaker, and Author Skip to the content

#53: Love em’ or Hate em’ – Why you need to know about the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index [Podcast]

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AUDIO TITLE:  Episode #53 – HRC Corporate Equality Index

Jenn T Grace:

You are listening to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast, Episode 53.


Welcome to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast where you’ll learn how to do business with and market to the LGBT community in an authentic and transparent way. We’re talking about the $790 billion lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. We’ll help you grow your business, gain market share and impact your bottom line. And now your host – she’s an entrepreneur, a marketing maven and an advocate for the LGBT business community. Jenn, with two N’s, T. Grace.

Hello and welcome!

Well hello and welcome to episode number 53 of the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and I have a very content-filled episode for you today; I’m pretty excited about having the time to actually get this episode done. I’ve been talking about it and delaying it a couple of times. But today we are going to talk about the Human Rights Campaign and their Corporate Equality Index. There will be lots of information shared in addition to a couple of areas of just my own personal opinion about the organization based on a request from somebody that is a fan on Facebook and somebody that I know. So I want to address a question of hers.

In addition I want to talk about kind of an overview of what the Corporate Equality Index is, because you may not have any idea what it is. So I want to share that a little bit.

I also am going to reply, in audio format, to a question I received from somebody that was on my webinar last month. So I want to have an opportunity to respond to this because it’s a longer question, and I just didn’t have enough time to actually type a really thoughtful response. But, also in looking at her question I feel like it’s something that you may also feel or have a similar question around. So it can help you at the same time.

What’s in store for today’s episode!

So that’s basically that in terms of what we are going to cover in today’s episode. As I am recording this I’m going to apologize in advance for perhaps some rustling sounds or- I don’t even know what kind of noise this would make in the microphone. But I am wrapped up in a blanket as I am recording this, and I have big, fluffy slippers on. Because it is one degree outside right now. It is- as I’m recording this it’s about 8:00 in the morning, so one degree is actually warmer than it has been overnight. But it’s very cold. So I am bundled up significantly. So if you hear any type of odd sounds, that’s likely probably where it’s coming from.

So anyway. So yes, it is February. We are I believe as of this recording it is February 19th, and I cannot wait for the winter to be done. I think I saw on someone’s Facebook page, not yesterday but the day before, that we were twenty days to daylight savings time. So I believe we’re about eighteen days away. And that is actually my favorite day of the year, as ridiculous as that might sound. It’s because the more daylight we can have, the better in my opinion. And the birds are starting to come back out, there’s actually a couple of Starlets I think they are, sitting on my deck right now, even though there is an actual- and I’m not exaggerating- an actual about three and a half feet, if not close to four feet, of snow on my deck and all throughout our yard. So it’s been a rough winter, I’m sure you can all relate to that. And I also just got back from jury duty. That was a very, very interesting process. I was away from my business for about three weeks, and any day- even if it’s just a day away from my business, I feel like there’s some sort of repercussions for having been gone. So I was away for three weeks, which has put me at a significant- in a significant backlog of phone calls and responses to emails that I owe people. But what was really interesting was that I was actually able to automate and delegate a lot of the stuff that I do on a day-to-day basis that I’d never really thought about delegating before, until it occurred to me, ‘Oh crap, I’m out of my business for three weeks; where or how am I going to get this done still?’ So it was actually a really interesting experience from that perspective.

I also just wrote a blog post that will be coming out next week; so if you’re listening to this live, like I know many of you do, it will be out I guess the third week in February. Let’s see, I can tell you now. I believe it’s February 26th. It is. Okay, so February 26th, there will be a very- it’s a really, actually a long blog post. It’s about sales and what it’s like to be on a murder trial. And I don’t know that I had said to all of you that I was on a murder trial prior to now, but yes. So it was a very intense experience, but there was a lot of really good take-aways I took from it. So I wanted to share those with you. So that will be in next week’s blog. And there are I believe I summed it up in like four key points. But it’s just much longer than usual, so I’m just warning you well in advance.

The next webinar…

Let’s see, alright. So before I get into today’s content I do want to talk about just real quick when the next webinar is; which happens to be on March 10th at 1:00 PM Eastern time. And the title of it is, ‘How Have You Been Reaching the LGBT Community in 2015? Good, Bad, Ugly? Let’s Discuss.’ So in January I had done a webinar that- honestly I don’t remember what I called it. But it was something about reaching the LGBT community and planning for 2015. Some kind of goal setting type of thing. So if you were on that January webinar, my plan is to have this next one kind of be a follow-up. So what have you done since? So it’s been about six, eight weeks or so since the last webinar. You know, how have you taken action on some of the stuff that we talked about? Where are you getting stuck? And all of that kind of great stuff. So that is the plan. I already have more RSVPs for the March webinar than I probably had people actually attend for the last three. I don’t know what it is about this one, I don’t know if it’s the day, the time, the title, I have no idea what it is. But there’s a lot of people signed up already for this. So I would strongly encourage you to go check it out. And of course you can do that at www.JennTGrace.com/webinar; and that will bring you right to the page, you can sign up ready to go.

Responding to emails..

And the last webinar that I did- that I was just talking about, which was in January, I had a woman attend it who runs a bed and breakfast. And she and I have corresponded quite a bit, she has been on some private webinars that I’ve done with somebody else. And I want to read to you two emails that she sent me. I want to read kind of a first email- I’m not going to read my response, but basically my question you can see to her was what do you think you’re doing differently to be attracting so many same-sex weddings to your bed and breakfast? And then it’s another email that she sent the same day after having watched the replay of the webinar, because she started- she was actually live and then for some reason something happened and she had to leave, and then she came back and was able to watch the recording, so then she had a question as a result of it. So I want to read both of these because I think it’s really important information and I have a hunch that there might be a couple of others of you out there who may have a similar concern, and not really sure what to do with it. So let me just read you this email.

So she says, ‘I’m not sure what I am doing differently from the other bed and breakfasts in my area. However, I seem to have better reviews than my counterparts. Most of my selling is done on the phone rather than on the website. When they call and mention their special occasion I let them know what I can do to make their day special. I take the time to find out if they’re looking for hearts and flowers or prefer a less flamboyant event. If this is to be well-attended or a small group. And I do my best to make sure guests not staying with me have appropriate places to stay. I find out what drew them to this area for their wedding; whether it’s an anniversary, birthday, et cetera. And then suggest activities and restaurants they might find interesting. I do not know how to put any or all of this information into my website or advertising. So I’m not sure where they’re getting my name. In the two recent same-sex weddings that I have done both came from the same state, (out of state from where she lives but the same state) but did not know each other. By choosing me and choosing my town and bed and breakfast, I believe they found it through Google. I hope this helps.’

So this was just me randomly asking because- and I don’t want to give any specifics of where she is, I don’t want to invade her privacy like that. But she is in- I don’t want to say a remote area, but it seems to be a less travelled area from my understanding of the geography here. I could be completely off base, and if I am please feel free to reach out to me and correct me and I can do a follow-up in the next podcast. But I was basically just wondering how it is that she just got two recent same-sex weddings, and has really good reviews and people seem to be really happy. So she’s not able to really pinpoint how that’s happening. And even though the two couples she’s saying didn’t know of each other, I still have a hunch that it’s going to be something around word of mouth. And really making one person really- like making their day really, really special and really, really awesome, is going to get that person to talk about her business more to others. And then it’s like the six degrees of separation. Somehow everyone’s going to know each other, and then voila. So I don’t know- and she sent me this email I’d say maybe a month ago, it was right before jury duty. So I would say that whatever she’s doing, she’s obviously doing something right. Even if it’s not a very proactive approach- it’s not like she’s specifically seeking LGBT weddings, but rather she is being very receptive and open and helpful when LGBT couples come her way and want to have their wedding in her area or at her bed and breakfast.

So that is the first piece of her email. The second piece of it- and this is the piece that I wanted to share with you. Okay so she says, ‘I just managed to listen to your webinar today, and I came up with the same question that I had when reading your first book. I am not comfortable networking at my local chamber get-togethers, and I at least know the business owners there. How do I get up the courage to walk into an LGBT chamber or pride meeting and not put my foot in my mouth there? I tried asking a member of the community to go with me, and he indicated that he didn’t like the caliber of people attending and he preferred not to attend. This didn’t give me the warm and fuzzy feeling about attending alone.’

So this is a good question, and this is why I told her that I would respond to it in a podcast form rather than trying to email some kind of response that made sense. Because I don’t have an easy answer for this. I think I would certainly trust the judgment of your friend, especially if your friend is from the community and he’s saying that the people who are at these events just aren’t that great. He might have a good inside look at things in terms of the people who are attending. And he says he didn’t like the caliber of people; I feel like that could have so many different meanings. He could be talking about the caliber of their personality, their character, it could be about their business. I feel like I don’t have a lot of information, but knowing that he’s not comfortable networking there, certainly wouldn’t make you comfortable and I can totally see that. It wouldn’t make me comfortable if I had asked anybody, ‘Oh hey should I go to this event?’ And then people who were part of that community I’m inquiring about say that they wouldn’t go because they’re not comfortable; then hell now, I wouldn’t want to go either. So I totally see where you kind of feel a little bit stuck, and I think networking in general is one of those things that so many people have a lot of anxiety around, they don’t know if this is the right thing for them to do. And I- like my local chamber I have been involved in it since 2007, so it has been many, many, many years that I have been going to meetings and meeting with people. And even occasionally- and even though I have run the organization, and I have been on the board for God knows how long, it still doesn’t make it any easier sometimes to walk into a room when it’s a room full of people that you don’t know. So I can totally see how just general networking phobias combined with the fact that this is an LGBT group, where you are afraid that you’re going to put your foot in your mouth; I can totally see where your hesitancy comes from.

I guess what I would say to this, is if you don’t feel comfortable networking, or you don’t feel comfortable going to the local LGBT Chamber of Commerce, then honestly I would say just don’t go. And I don’t want to ever try to force a way of doing things on anybody that I talk to, work with, provide advice to, et cetera. So I would say just don’t do it. What I would suggest instead is to try to set up a separate meeting with somebody from that organization. So whether it’s a Pride Group, an LGBT Chamber, a regular chamber of commerce, or some kind of industry-specific group that you belong to. I would try to find out who’s on the board, who on the board might have a business that’s similar to yours. So if you’re talking about the regular LGBT Chamber, maybe, or just the regular Chamber. Maybe there is some kind of tourist attraction that is- you know somebody represents that kind of organization. That would be a really good connection for you to have, especially if when people are coming to your bed and breakfast, you are trying to provide essentially things for them to do in the area. So having collaborations and ways to cross-pollinate between your business and their business, I think that would be a wonderful use of your time. And it would be even better if those people were actually on the board or somehow involved in this organization. Because what you want to do- and this is how I would do it. Is that I would find that organization, I would call them up, send them an email, try to get the Executive Director- that’s always a great choice, because the Executive Director or the President or the CEO, whatever their title might be, they’re going to be the person who knows everybody else. They are that central connection point to all of the people that you want to connect to. So I would try to get a meeting with them, and if you are able to do so, when you sit down ask them, “What events do you have that you think that it would be helpful for me?” And honestly- and this could backfire, I don’t think it would but it’s possible I guess. But I would just point blank to say to them, “Listen I am a little bit hesitant to come to a networking meeting because I’m afraid that I’m going to say something that I shouldn’t say. Can you like be my guide, be my chaperone,” whatever you want to call it. “Like can you go to this event with me?” You can ask that of any of the board members, somebody who might be a member already. I would reach out to likeminded businesses, businesses that somehow can help serve your business, and then ask them to bring you with them to an event. So that way you’re not on your own and you can kind of be like wing-women, wing-men, wing-buddies, whatever title you want to call each other. But basically be able to kind of tagteam that event together. So that way you’re not alone, and you can kind of have each other’s backs in terms of not wanting- like if you see that somebody’s saying something kind of inappropriate- not meaning to be inappropriate but it happens. Then you can kind of poke the other person, almost in jest to be like, “I don’t think you should have said it that way.” And I think if you can find somebody who’s actually part of the community to be that wing-person with you, then it should reduce some of your anxiety.

Hope this helps..

Now I don’t know if that completely answers your question, or helps kind of push you in the right direction. But I hope it at least moves you into a little bit more of a place of comfort. But just understand that I can completely see where you’re coming from in terms of your anxiety around doing this. I 100% get that. And I think anybody else would as well. So hopefully that answers your question. And if not, feel free to shoot me an email and I will elaborate or respond in more detail on the next podcast. Because again, you have the courage to send me this email, and ask the question, but I feel confident that a lot of people listening to this right now are resonating exactly with this message, too.

An overview of the Human Rights Campaign…

Alright, so now that I’ve answered that question what I want to do is talk about the Human Rights Campaign today. And if you are not familiar with the Human Rights Campaign on a bigger, broader level, I would encourage you to go back and listen to- I believe it was episode number 51. And I would encourage you to go back and listen to that episode because it’s going to give you an overview of who the HRC is, what they do, you’ll hear from Liz Cooper who works at the HRC and is someone that I know. And it will give you at least a general sense of what the organization does. But I will read to you- let’s see, a paragraph about what the Corporate Equality Index is.

So first, the HRC is- they’re the largest LGBT nonprofit and they have a specific focus on Corporate America, and changing policies within Corporate America. That’s like really their big thing. I’m sure there’s a million other things they can do, and I’m confident that I’m going to get feedback as a result of this podcast. Because I want to share with you some key findings from the CEI; I’m going to actually rip it straight out of the Corporate Equality Index itself, and just share straight up facts that they provide.

But then I’m also going to kind of go through an article that somebody on Facebook sent me because she wanted to hear my opinion. And I want to share my opinion and I’m confident I’m going to piss people off with my opinion. So stay tuned for that, but I want to frame this whole conversation in a positive light. And there are a lot of people out there who do not like the Human Rights Campaign. It is very, very obvious that there are a lot of haters of this organization. I am not one of them. I don’t think they’re perfect, because they are certainly far from, but I also feel they have made some great strides in moving the needle forward on behalf of LGBT people in Corporate America, and even to a certain degree in business.

So I want to talk about the Corporate Equality Index because that’s the thing that is a good measurement for what a company is or is not doing for the LGBT community. So I’m just going to read to you what they say the Corporate Equality Index does. Then I’m going to I guess give you some of like what the grading criteria is if you will, and I guess I’m just going to try to give you a high level overview of what the Corporate Equality Index is; because I know most of you are not going to know what this is, and I don’t want to be talking about it as if you do.

So let me just share with you this short sentence. The cornerstone of the Corporate Equality Index has always been a principle of non-discrimination with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity. This ethos underpins all the criteria to date. From equal benefits to equal visibility and engagement with LGBT employees in the community at large.

So the Corporate Equality Index is basically a surveying tool. And this tool goes out to Fortune 1000s, the American Lawyer Top 200 Law Firms, and I believe any other publicly held company, or privately held company that wants to be rated. So in the numbers- like there are a lot of numbers. So- because this is an audio thing I don’t want to go hogwild with numbers. But in total- and this is straight out of their actual Corporate Equality Index. In total, the CEI 2015 officially rates 306 Fortune 500 businesses, 86 Fortune 1000 businesses, 149 law firms, and 240 additional major businesses. An additional 190 Fortune 500 businesses have unofficial ratings. So this brings the total of businesses in the guide to 971. So hopefully you got all of those numbers, and I’ll make sure that I get some show notes up on the website that you can access these numbers at some sort of a glance. And it will be at www.JennTGrace.com/53, for episode number 53.

Basically what this is all doing is it’s a way to either publicly praise, or publicly shame a company for what they do or don’t do as it relates to LGBT people in the workplace. So they have a very, very lengthy survey. And I have never actually filled the survey out myself, but I know a lot of LGBT people who work in Corporate America who have groaned and moaned to me at numerous points throughout the years over when they’re in the process of actually filling this thing out, because it’s a pain in the ass from my understanding.

Their 5 Sections.. The first one talks about non-discrimination policies

So they have- I believe it’s broken into, it appears to be five sections. So the first section talks about non-discrimination policies. So those are- they’re basically grading these companies – these 971 organizations – on whether or not they prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, that’s one component. And whether or not they prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, that’s the second component. So they are graded individually for each of these things. So basically you could score some points on the fact that you have sexual orientation protections, and you could score no points because you don’t have gender identity protections. So that’s basically how it works. You can get points in all categories, you can get points in no categories. And then they rate you based on a scale of 1-100, and they compile it into this very short- it’s like a 6 x 9 printed booklet, there’s an app for the phone that you can kind of flip through at a quick glance and have a general understanding of whether or not a company is pro-LGBT or anti-LGBT. And I say a general understanding because there’s a lot of nuance that goes into all of this, and I will get to that article that I’m going to give just kind of my input around, or my opinion about, at the end; so you have a better understanding of why some LGBT people are not happy with this organization. But I still believe that they are doing really good stuff for the workplace and they are moving the needle forward. And I will maintain that position throughout.

The second component..

The second component here is around equal benefits. So that’s things like adoption assistance, employee discounts, bereavement, relocation, FMLA, like that kind of stuff. So it’s broken out into three parts. So it’s asking if the business offers domestic partner health insurance. If there’s parity across all of the soft benefits for domestic partners and those are the benefits like adoption assistance, employee discounts, et cetera. And then the third piece is whether or not they offer at least one transgender inclusive healthcare coverage plan. So now all these organizations, these big Fortune 500s, Fortune 1000s, large businesses, are now looking at this part of the survey. And they have to identify and they have to say whether they yes, have these coverages or no they don’t. And again, you get more points- all of these are you want to have points in all of these categories; and they’re all weighted differently. I feel like it’s not worth going into the actual weights with all of you because this podcast would be three hours if I were to get that granular. But generally speaking, a lot of companies lose points on 2C which is the one for transgender inclusive healthcare coverage. So a company might be doing great things, but if they’re not serving the needs of their transgender workforce, they’re going to be docked points for that. And this whole Equality Index is a growing and an evolving tool, so at some points in the past if you looked at the old versions of the CEI and what it was asking, transgender coverage was not part of it and it’s basically- it’s evolving. So in due time, hopefully everybody is included under here, it’s a more accurate reflection of the actual workplace. So this is not a perfect tool I guess is what I’m trying to say. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is something and it’s a really powerful tool even if it’s not perfect, in my opinion.

And the third..

So then the third piece is organizational competency in LGBT inclusion. So that’s broken out into two things. So whether or not an organization has any type of competency training, whether there’s any metrics, there’s resources, or accountability measures as it relates to LGBT inclusion. And then the other piece is whether or not they have an Employee Resource Group, a diversity counsel, some kind of allies group; all within the organization. And these I feel like are areas that I would imagine most companies score decent on because I feel like any large company at this point has an Employee Resource Group, whether or not it’s super active or productive is another story, but I feel like most of them do have them. But again, you could look at this PDF and you could actually go through and point out like, ‘Oh, they don’t have one, they don’t have one, they don’t have one.’ So it’s actually really interesting from a data perspective of how granular this index goes with these companies.

…Fourth and fifth.

And then there are two other sections. So there’s the fourth one which is public commitment. And this is basically any positive engagement that’s external with the LGBT community. And I’m sure there’s a lot of different things that fall under this, I did not read in great detail what exactly does fall under this, but I would imagine sponsorships of large LGBT organizations; like making a public commitment to them, sponsorships of large public LGBT events, also would probably fall into it. And then so again, one through four are all areas where you can earn points.

Then we have number five and this is the only one where you can actually lose points. So responsibly citizenship employers. And they can have points deducted up to- they will have 25 points deducted. If they have had a large scale official or public anti-LGBT blemish on their records recently. I do not know what constitutes recent records according to them. And I want to point out that a lot of the heat and crap that the HRC takes, is by- for example Chevron, Goldman Sachs and Monsanto, three companies that I feel confident don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling to most people. All scored 100% on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. Now if we’re talking about responsible citizenship employers, as it relates to anything, Monsanto I feel like is certainly one of those organizations that nobody has a warm and fuzzy feeling about. Their name is constantly in the news for terrible things that they’re doing. But what you need to remember is that this grading system and this index is only about LGBT. Even though the organization is called the Human Rights Campaign, it’s really focused on LGBT only. So we- even though Chevron, Goldman Sachs and Monsanto all got 100%, that’s around LGBT; that is not- this is not saying that they are perfect or they are upstanding citizens, upstanding employers, et cetera in any other area of life. I don’t even know how to phrase what I’m trying to say. But basically this is only looking at LGBT. So while yes, they have 100% Monsanto, yay you have 100%. That is not reflective of all the other terrible things that they’re doing for small business, for the farming communities, for public health; like they’re doing a bunch of bad things but according to the HRC, they are doing something correct because they got 100% on this index. Now this will come into play when I talk about just why a lot of people actually hate the HRC, I’ll talk about that in a few minutes and why it’s important to note the 100% ratings and I guess what degree of- I’m at a loss for words. Like how real they are I guess is what I’m trying to say. Like how real are these 100% ratings. So I’ll get into that in just a couple of minutes.

So I’m hoping at this point, I’ve given you kind of a broad understanding of what the HRC does, what they’re grading companies on, et cetera. This is the 13th edition of it, and in 2015 366 businesses according to the types of businesses that I described at the beginning, scored 100%; which means on all of those grading criterias that we just talked about one through four, they got points for every single one of those.

And then five, with the responsible citizenship, they didn’t get docked any points. So that’s 100%. 366 businesses got 100%. Versus only thirteen the first time this came out thirteen years ago. So whether you like the HRC or you hate the HRC, I don’t think it’s relevant because they’ve managed to grow from thirteen companies getting 100% to 366 companies getting 100%. And like I said there’s a lot of people who just don’t like the organization, but I want to try to frame it in a way that maybe some of you can relate to; and especially some of you out there who are just anti the HRC.

If we’re looking at the fact that there were thirteen companies, and now there’s 366. That is a significant increase in a thirteen year period of time. And while I know there’s a lot of other LGBT rights organizations out there who are saying HRC is a sell-out, they are patronizing to Corporate America, they’re in it for the money; like there’s a lot of different arguments. Ultimately I had an experience, and this is how I’m going to try to frame the impact I think that they’re making that nobody is taking into consideration or perhaps the haters aren’t taking into consideration. When somebody is looking for a job, and they’re thinking, “Hm, I’m gay. I’m looking for a job. My history is working within Corporate America, so I’m just going to keep looking within Corporate America for my next job.”

The HRC is a really good tool for somebody who is trying to figure out where they might fit. So you could have two banking institutions. One with 100% on the HRC and one with a 30% on the HRC. And I’m just making this up at the moment; I don’t know if there are any banking institutions who have 30%, but just follow my example. So you have these two, right? I would venture a guess that the person who is gay who’s looking at this is going to say, “You know what, I’m going to go to that company that I know has 100% because they’re going to be better than the company that has the 30%.” Now a company- like the whole way that the survey works, it’s self-selection. So there’s no kind of audit trail or audit that happens after. So I could be in the diversity department for one of these large organizations and I could just make it up. I could just make shit up and just say how great we are, how we’re doing all this great stuff, and that might not be reality. And I’m certain there are companies that are doing that, and probably do have 100% even if they aren’t fully committed and fully doing it the right way. But at the end of the day- like they’re not going to be able to lie about policies because I’m pretty certain- I could be wrong- I’m pretty certain that they’re actually required to submit those policies in response to the survey. So if we are thinking, “I’m going to pick the company that has the 100%, or I’m going to pick the company that has the higher percentage.” Because even if they’re not perfect they’re going to be better than that other organization. And I was actually- and I talked about this in a podcast episode and I tried to find what episode it was a while back when I was preparing for this episode, I have absolutely no idea. But if you’re a long-time listener to this, maybe this will sound familiar and if I can find out where I talked about it before, I’ll happily link it up in the show notes.

About my experience at a conference in Dallas..

But I was at a conference in Dallas about two years ago, and- yeah I think it was about two years ago. And I- it was like after one of the days a bunch of us went out, we ended up at a restaurant that was having like a lesbian night. And there’s about eight of us, and all eight Type A business owner lesbians; so you can only imagine the randomness that ensued from just being a bunch of Type A women in general, added to the fact that we’re at an LGBT conference, a bunch of lesbians, and now we’re at a restaurant having a lesbian night. So we’re all there having a great time and we see across from us a table full of really young lesbians. And I was just going to say I don’t know how the hell we ended up talking to them, but now I remember. They were trying to take a picture of themselves and I don’t know what the hell they were doing but they were doing something very- they weren’t doing it right. So one of our Type A selves walked over there and said, “Do you want us to just take it for you?” So then it ended up getting in a whole conversation between our side of people and their side of people. And one of them asked, “Oh why are you here?” And we were talking about the conference and we were talking about the organizations, conference that we were there at; and one of them- and mind you we’re in Dallas. One of them says, “Oh, I work for that company.” And it happened to be one of the biggest sponsors of that conference and of that organization; it’s a very, very, very well-known company. And they have 100% on the HRC. They have the right policies in place. They have Employee Resource Groups, they have everything that they need to satisfy the criteria of the 100%. But in talking with this young woman, she was probably like in her early twenties. She was working in a- not a manufacturing plant but she was outside the corporate office. So she was like in one of the more remote locations. So while they have a very big, heavy presence in Dallas, and they’re a global institution; so they’re all over the place. But she was in a remote location that was in- I don’t even remember what part of Texas. Somewhere in Texas that is not as progressive as Dallas is, let’s just put it that way. And she had faced discrimination in the workplace herself, she’s had trouble coming out to people and then going back in the closet, and back and forth and back and forth because she doesn’t feel safe in the workplace sometimes. You know she has some middle management who have problems with LGBT people. So she is in a ball- like it’s just a can of worms for her, in her current everyday situation. And yet she’s working for a very large, global institution that is doing so much good for the LGBT community. It’s not a company that’s just saying that they’re doing things; they’re actually doing them. And they have 100% on the HRC. And they sponsor in significant, large amounts of money a lot of LGBT organizations. And yet there’s still somebody who’s in a satellite (that’s the word I was thinking of); a satellite office who is being discriminated on a day to day basis.

It is sad, it is unfortunate, but I know it is common; this is a very common situation. Because it is not an easy task if you’re looking at a corporation that’s a Fortune 1000 that’s got 40,000 employees for example. It is very hard to get your message of LGBT inclusion from the top, to get it to fully go all the way down into those satellite locations. So this is going to continue to happen. Like say you’re a bank. If you are in your small banking location in a really rural area, you are at the mercy of whoever your management is in that particular location, regardless of what corporate says. And of course you can go through corporate and file complaints and try to get some sort of mediation and make your day-to-day situation better. But- and you should know, I would imagine that you have the support of the organization because they do want what’s best. But at the end of the day you can only do so much with the people that are around you and the employees that you have. So it’s not my way of defending the Human Rights Campaign or defending these large corporations; but I feel like- and I know I’m always the devil’s advocate but I just feel like a lot of times companies are not given credit for what they are doing. They’re always just hit for what they aren’t doing. And hearing from this woman when we were in Dallas, I just felt so bad for her. Because it’s like we are all out here enjoying a grand old time- you know we were just having a- you know one of the opening receptions or opening cocktail something or other, sponsored by this corporation that she works for and she’s being discriminated against. And it just felt a little bit gross at the time, and at the end of the day that company is probably making an impact and doing a hell of a lot for a lot of people who are in the corporate office. But once you get out of the corporate office it gets so much harder to manage how LGBT people can feel included and how you can protect those LGBT people. And it’s not solely a specific instance to them; I’m sure there’s many, many other people who would say the same things.

So I think you have some people who look at the Corporate Equality Index and they say, “Oh yeah they’re just taking that company’s money just to say that they’re doing things.” And the company that I’m referring to, which I’m not going to mention their names still. I have seen instances where people say, “Oh yeah, they’re just buying their way into 100%.” And I also know companies who have trained and facilitated and worked with their LGBT employees as well, and I know that that’s not true at all. But you know, it’s really hard. It’s hard to be able to see that even with these companies that have 100%, how poorly they’re doing in a lot of areas. But I think they are actively- and I can’t say this to be true, but my guess is that they are still actively trying to figure out how to make that better.

Employee Resource Groups, which are the groups that are formed with LGBT people, sometimes allies, are the ones that are internally trying to help push these initiatives forward. So most of these companies have these groups, and I know a lot, a lot, a lot of people who work for Fortune 500s, Fortune 1000s, who are part of these groups and who will say to me, “You know what, we got 100% but we still have a long way to go. We’re still trying to get X leadership to do something. Or we’re still trying to get this person to kind of move out of our way so we can continue to make progress.” But they’re committed. They are committed on behalf of the LGBT community at large. They’re committed on behalf of their fellow LGBT employees. So I feel like we shouldn’t discredit all of that work that’s being done by people on the ground in these organizations. And I feel like a lot of times when people were bitching and moaning about how unfair the Corporate Equality Index is, and how dare they give Monsanto or Goldman Sachs 100%. I feel like you need to be thinking about all of the many, many layers that go into this; and I don’t think enough people are.

So I’m sure there will be plenty of people who disagree with me, and that’s totally fine, we’re all entitled to our opinions. But I wanted to still mention that. And there’s one other thing I want to cover, and I’m going to try to do this briefly because I know we’re getting close to an hour mark here. But I had a link sent to me, and I will include this in the show notes; so it will be www.JennTGrace.com/53 for episode 53. And it is titled, ‘Human Rights Campaign Under Fire in LGBT Community.’ And it was written on January 11th of this year. So the title under it says, ‘Queer groups call foul on the largest LGBT nonprofit, the Human Rights Campaign for glorifying corporations the groups consider to be downright dirty.’ And this is where I was saying like Goldman Sachs and Monsanto have terrible reputations across the board; but yet they still managed to get 100% on the HRC. So like I said before, if they have done what they’re supposed to do as it relates to that scoring criteria that the HRC has put out, then even if they’re terrible for everything else, it means that they’re still trying to actively do something right for LGBT. And again, they’re not perfect, they’re probably not even close to perfect, but they are at least pointed in the right direction. It’s certainly better than the companies who have negative 25s. Which means not only did they not do a damn thing for LGBT, but they’re also proactively doing things against LGBT, and there are companies who do get negative 25s on the scoring criteria. So you know you have to give them some- even if it’s a little bit, just a tiny ounce of credit for having done what they’re doing.

An article on the HRC

So this article is really long, and very anti-HRC and it’s kind of- it’s trying to take the viewpoint of the entire LGBT community. I don’t think it’s fair for them to do that, and I’m not taking a viewpoint of the entire LGBT community myself; I am just sharing my personal opinion. And for years and years I have gotten into arguments with people about the HRC because it really- it is a completely divided straight down the middle, you either like them or you hate them. I feel like there’s very, very little middle area. So if somebody sees their logo which is the blue and yellow equal sign, it either triggers like, “Oh yeah, they’re doing good.” Or, “I can’t stand them.” Like there’s just so- it’s so black and white it’s a little bit scary. But I’m on the side of liking what they’re doing. And again, they’re not perfect but they’re certainly- they’re giving voice to the community that needs to have a voice. So there’s a couple of things in here that I’m just going to point out because I know that Julie from Facebook wanted to just hear my general thoughts and opinions; and I’m hoping that this whole episode kind of gives her a better sense of what my thoughts are. But Julie hopefully you’re listening to this.

In here it talks about- like one sentence says, ‘Lots of people from the increasingly fractured community often white, wealthy gays versus the rest, don’t want to support an organization that devotes a good deal of its resources into making big corporations look like they’re on the right side of history.’ So- and mind you I just pulled that little piece out of a much longer paragraph and tirade over here. But I totally get that. And that is one of the things that I talk about a lot. Is oftentimes when companies are talking about marketing to the LGBT community, they’re looking at it from the ‘I’m trying to target the white, male, affluent, gay population.’ They’re not talking about women, they’re not talking about anyone other than white. They are talking about white, affluent gays. And so I’m not- like this person’s point, completely taken the fact that this is what it might appear to look like. That they’re just targeting the white affluent gay men. And it’s saying it’s devoting a good deal of its resources to making big corporations look like they’re on the right side of history. I feel like to a certain degree yes, the HRC is helping make these companies look like they’re on the right side of history. But at the end of the day, if a company is still doing something terrible, they’re not on the right side of history. So even if we have 366 companies this year, in 2015, who scored 100%; if one of those companies does something really stupid, and really inappropriate as it relates to the LGBT community, everybody is going to know about it. We live in a very social environment, so everybody is going to know about it. If you recall Barilla Pasta, for example. I did an episode- I want to say it was episode nineteen, talking about why authenticity matters. And Barilla- you know the CEO just open mouth, insert foot type of moment and this was back in like, I don’t know- November of 2013 this all happened. And he made a complete public ass of himself. The LGBT community kind of like just went totally over the edge over how what he had said and what he didn’t say. And this year in 2015, they now have 100% on the HRC score. So I don’t know exactly what they did or did not do to get their 100%, but I know that after that public cry of like- he just made some anti-gay remarks and I encourage you to go back and listen to episode nineteen to get the full story. But it goes to show that when you do or say something stupid, there’s a way that you can turn that into a positive and make an impact for other people. So yeah, Barilla Pasta was- he made some anti-gay comments, the community went up in arms over it. They made changes. I know that they put in like a diversity council, they set up Employee Resource Groups, they did a lot of work to get themselves to rate at 100%.

Now I am not going to pretend like this is a perfect scoring system, because it does seem slightly suspicious to me that they go from being terrible and refuse to being graded on the HRC’s Index, to now in this new edition being at 100%. It does seem a little shady to me that they could go from zero refusal, anti-LGBT, to 100% in that short of time. But you know what, I’m not internal there. I don’t know what they are or aren’t doing. But what I do know is there are employees who are benefitting from that now. There are employees who- if they have 100% it means they have to have the sexual orientation non-discrimination policies, the gender identity non-discrimination policies, et cetera. So they had to move mountains is my guess, to make sure that they had all of these policies and practices in place. And as a result, even if it does seem a little suspicious that they jumped so magically so fast, there are employees within that organization who are benefitting from the fact they had to jump through all of these damn hoops to satisfy the grading criteria here. And I feel like this is always the lens in which we need to go back to.

Yes, it is run by giant, giant, multi-million, multi-billion dollar companies; but there are people’s lives that are affected as a result of these policy changes. And it could just be one random person in the middle of Texas that now has a policy that she can point to, to say, “Hey, I have this happen to me, and this is the way I want to handle the situation because we have a policy around that.” And if it weren’t for the HRC being on their asses about this stuff on a regular basis, they would have no reason to do this. Like they’re not going to do it- like a lot of companies are not just going to do it for the sake of doing it. It’s just- it is what it is. Companies are looking at the bottom line, they’re looking at what is going to make them the most money, and they’re not paying attention to a lot of stuff that they should probably be paying attention to. So when you have somebody like the HRC who is riding their ass and saying you have to be doing this, you have to be doing this, or you’re going to lose your score; then they’re going to do it whether it’s for the right reason or not. There are lives of people who are working for these companies that are affected as a result of what’s going on. So I hope that you can understand that framework from where I’m coming from.

So now there’s more in here- let’s see. This article is really long and I encourage you to take a look at it, although I don’t agree with a lot of it. It says- there’s a quote from somebody from the HRC that says, “We have seen great success with the rating criteria that are discrete and objective. For example when we started the CEI in 2002, only 3% of the Fortune 500 had gender identity protections. As compared to 2/3 of them on the list today; largely spurred by the CEI.” Now the person’s opinions in here are basically saying- they’re kind of implying that the HRC really had nothing to do with corporations changing their policies to be more inclusive of gender identity. You know, I just completely disagree with this. I disagree with the entirety of what this person is trying to say because if it weren’t for the Corporate Equality Index, these companies would not be adding these things on their own free will. They just wouldn’t be doing it. They wouldn’t even know that they need to be doing this; it’s just not something that they’re thinking about.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Fortune companies out there that are very proactive and have been ahead of this curve since the beginning. Those thirteen companies that had the 100% back in 2002; those companies have been leading the trail for a very, very, very long time. Because they saw the value in having an inclusive workplace, and there is value, and there is a lot of data and study and research that goes around how happy employees make better employees. Better employees earn more revenue. There’s very clear ties to employee engagement and productivity. But that is a very hard sell a lot of times to get into- like if you’re in front of an HR person and trying to make that case to them when they have to be worrying about a million other things that they need to be doing. This is definitely going to be something that’s low on the list.

So it is because the HRC is teasing these companies with, ‘Don’t you want 100%?’ And I don’t know what Coke or Pepsi have on their ratings, but if you’re Coke and you have an 80% but Pepsi has 100%, you damn well know that natural competition is going to be like, ‘You know what? If my competition has 100%, I need 100%.’ And even if that doesn’t seem like the right reason to make change in your mind, it’s still making change. Whether we like the way it’s happening or not, it’s still making change; it’s kind of how I see it.

One of the headlines is, ‘Trusting Corporations to Tell the Truth about Themselves.’ And you know it says activists find another big problem with the report’s very design. You know, and this is by that whole self-selection type of process. And again, I already kind of covered the whole self-selection thing earlier on, but yes like down here in a couple paragraphs below it says, “Upon being honored, corporations take little time before issuing self-congratulatory press releases about their supposed gay friendliness. Example, Monsanto, which has received unwanted attention for everything from its use of child labor to the spreading of GMOs soon used the opportunity to promote itself in the media as an LGBT-friendly company focused on collaborating to find sustainable agricultural solutions.”

So yeah, like I have nothing to say to that. Like yeah, Monsanto is the devil in many ways. They are doing some really terrible shit. But as it relates to LGBT according to this grading criteria, they are getting 100% because they have those policies and practices in place. Whether or not the policies and practices in place trickle down to their entire workforce is another story, and whether or not they are active and- or proactive with the stuff that they have in place is another story. But it’s the fact that they still have those policies in place and there are many other companies that do not have those policies. So while we can condemn Monsanto for every other reason under the sun, LGBT according to this, they have the 100%.

So I’m not making excuses for them, but issuing a self-congratulatory press release- of course they’re going to do that for crying out loud. Every company on Earth would do that. If you were told by- I don’t know, the Windy City something or other. Something in Chicago for example. Some small paper, even. Some really, local paper that that paper said your organization for whatever reason just earned 100% on something that you could even care less about. Has nothing to do with you, you were just acknowledged for 100% on whatever they’re telling you, you’re going to talk about it. You’re going to use that as leverage within your business, it’s just what we do. Why would we expect something any different from Corporate America? Because I know that for me anytime I am in a list or I have an article that’s written about me, or whatever it happens to be. I’m going to promote the hell out of that because that’s what we do as business owners. And entrepreneurs, you have to be the one promoting yourself, especially in light if you’re doing a bunch of other stuff that is not so kosher.

So in Monsanto’s example, yeah they’re doing a bunch of shit that people don’t like. So of course they’re going to use the opportunity to try to at least spread some level of good will about their LGBT friendliness; even if people don’t believe it. It’s still, in my opinion, a logical business- a logical thing that a business would do is to promote something, even if there’s some falsity to it.

So that’s- I guess that’s kind of my take on things. You know, like I said love them or hate them, the HRC is here, the HRC is not going anywhere anytime soon from my understanding. I do have a love for many other LGBT groups around business, around the workplace; but HRC is just kind of the beast. They are the big one, they are the ones that everybody knows. And yeah, whether or not they’re doing things for 100% the right reasons. Whether or not they have everyone’s best interest at heart, if they’re not an affluent gay white man; so it’s them versus everyone else. Like I can’t answer that. I don’t know that. I just know my personal opinion as a white lesbian living in the suburbs for my family, I know that for me I view them as doing good things for the community. And like I said in the beginning, you very well might not appreciate this opinion, but it’s my opinion and you know I really want to hear yours too. So if you’re listening to this, and you are an ally to the LGBT community or you are part of the LGBT community in some way and you have a specific example of why you think that the HRC is terrible, I would love to hear it. Because I really am objective, I really like to hear both sides of every story. This is my personal opinion, this comes from my personal experience with them. But I know that it’s a very polarizing topic, so I would love to hear from you regardless of what your opinion is. You could disagree with everything I’ve stated today, and I’m totally cool with that. I really just want to hear what you have to say and why you disagree with it, because I think it could be a really good discussion point.

In conclusion..

So I would love to hear about that, and I’m happy to do- maybe in the next podcast episode I can react to some of the things that you say. So post on LinkedIn, which is where I love to be, Twitter, Facebook; wherever it happens to be, just let me know what you think. Whether you disagree or agree, just let me know what you think and we can totally go from there and see what happens. Because it’s all about education and it’s all about being respectful of one another and really just truly hearing each other out.

So I think that’s going to cover it. We’re just over an hour at today’s episode, I think that covers it for today. So I hope you enjoyed this episode- like I said I’d really love to hear your feedback and I will catch you in the next episode, number 54.

Thanks so much and I will talk with you soon, bye bye.

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published nearly 200 books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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