This summer, a large group of more than 200 businesses weighed in on the LGBTQ discrimination cases currently before the Supreme Court with a pointed argument: workplace equality is good for business.
For the Human Rights Campaign, one of the LGBTQ civil rights groups that helped coordinate the companies’ amicus brief to the high court, that argument has been central to its efforts for nearly two decades. It’s part of the thinking behind the group’s Corporate Equality Index, a de facto industry barometer for how companies treat LGBTQ employees, according to Beck Bailey, who directs the group’s workplace equality program.
“We said, ‘We want you to do these things, because, not only is there a right and moral reason for you to be inclusive of LGBTQ people, but there’s a very strong business case,’” Bailey said.
“That business case centers largely around your talent, your workforce, that if you want to have the best, you have to have those people fully engaged, you want them fully productive, you’re going to have to cast the widest net and when you cast that net you’re gonna have to welcome everyone into it.”
Since 2002, the group has issued reports on its corporate equality index, or CEI, which broadly tests companies’ antidiscrimination policies, the benefits they offer LGBTQ employees and their overall workplace culture for LGBTQ employees.
The group devised the measure at a time long before the Supreme Court granted marriage equality in 2015, and at a time when LGBTQ employees could be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity in more than three dozen states. The Human Rights Campaign’s idea to encourage corporate America to fill the legislative void that jeopardized the job security and basic rights of LGBTQ employees, Bailey said.
“So when you think about that moment, and how grim, really, from a legal view, it was for our community, this is the moment that the leaders at HRC before me said, ‘I know what we’ll do — we’re gonna go to corporate America and we’re gonna ask corporate America to step out in front.’”
Even today, some 28 states lack laws protecting LGBTQ people from workplace and housing discrimination, and the extent of protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is being debated before the Supreme Court.
In October, the high court heard oral arguments in three cases that challenge the scope of Title VII, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace and housing over traits such as national origin, race and sex. Two of the cases ask the court to consider whether Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination “on the basis of sex” applies to sexual orientation, while the third asks whether it also applies to gender identity.
Besides antidiscrimination protections, the CEI also gauges companies’ benefits, including whether they provide insurance plans that provide transgender inclusive health-care coverage, and whether they have internal policies to support LGBTQ employees, including gender transition guidelines. Companies must prioritize setting up internal policies to support their workers before posturing as allies to the community, Bailey said.
“If you try to engage with our community before you’ve done this work to put your house in order, it will be inauthentic,” Bailey said. “And it will be, pinkwashing, and our community will see through those efforts, if you are not in alignment.”