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The Corporate View, Part 2: A Useful Tool

So here’s a little background on the CEI… back in the 1993, author Grant Lukenbill and financial advisor Howard Tharsing created a thing called the Gay and Lesbian Values Index (glvIndex) to drive socially-conscious investing with a nod to gay-friendly firms.  The index score (1 – 10) was based on the 10 Equality Principles developed by the Equality Project in New York as a way to measure companies’ commitment to equal treatment of LGBT employees. 

The HRC Foundation acquired the glvIndex in 2001 and re-launched it as the Corporate Equality Index in 2002.  The criteria was tweaked slightly, the scale went from 10 points to 100, but it was basically a one-page survey with 10 questions covering the basics, like “Does your firm have a written policy barring employment discrimination based on, and using the words, ‘sexual orientation?’”

Until this year’s survey, there has only been one major revision to the criteria that happened in 2006 where parity requirements for domestic partner benefits were increased and for transgender employees, written guideline and health benefit requirements were added.  Beginning with the 2012 survey, scoring is contingent on much more (like full health benefits for transgender employees and dependants) which I’ll talk about in another diary post.

I will be the first to admit that the criteria are not perfect, but I do respect the process for managing changes – and that while the stability may seem like stagnation to some, it does provide businesses time to adjust to changes and for those that are further ahead to be rewarded for being trailblazers.

Why Businesses Participate

Like it or not, the CEI is the de facto standard for measuring LGBT-workplace inclusion.  If it weren't then participation rates would not continue to go up, despite the ever increasing requirements for a high score. 

Companies that do participate in the CEI find:

  • The CEI provides an easy and standardized way to evaluate the company’s diversity policies and practices geared towards LGBT-inclusion.
  • The Annual CEI report provides key benchmarking data – free of charge – regarding industry peers and leaders.
  • CEI scores are used by many potential employees (gay and straight) to evaluate employment opportunities.  Higher scoring companies report increased interest as well enhanced corporate reputation.
  • Participation demonstrates a level of commitment to their LGBT employees which tends to increase employee commitment and retention
  • LGBT consumers will go out of their way to “reward” high scoring companies with their business and avoid companies that score low.

Once you get to that rarified air of 100% status, it’s been my experience that few corporate leaders want to see that slip away… but we’ll see how that plays out in this year’s report.  I know any number of companies that are right now crunching the numbers on transgender health benefits to try and keep their score.  (Peer pressure and prestige do work for the executive class.)

Knowing Where You Are and Plotting Where You Need to Be

From my experience, progress on LGBT-workplace issues starts grass-roots – usually with an LGBT employee group (formal or informal) – but ultimately needs a top-down champion who can push through the inertia and enforce behavioral changes.

That’s one of the reasons why folks in the corporate community rely on the CEI as a change measure – it allows you to understand where your company is currently, figure out where things need to be, create a plan to make the change happen, and continue to measure progress along the way.

Having a baseline is a must – otherwise you waste time & energy in trying to push change.  Some of the criteria are easier to meet than others… and each criteria area usually needs a business case that talks specifically to that element.  Chunking it up also makes it easier to know who the real decision-makers and stakeholders on a given subject.

The process is fairly simple:

  1. Assess your current state
  2. Define the desired state using CEI as a midpoint not an endpoint
  3. Develop a plan to get from point A to point B
  4. Prioritize the goals
  5. Gather troops and allies
  6. Understand who the players / decision-makers are (and what they'll need to make the correct decision)
  7. Do your homework
  8. Execute the plan

Progress happens over time, so these steps are iterative.  You can see examples of how companies tackle the variety of LGBT workplace issues here — but the basic CEI framework applies:

Case study:  I’ll use my own experience at Chevron working on adding gender identity to the employment policies.

The heavy lifting on sexual orientation and domestic partnership benefits happened for us in the 1990’s… although we were a bit apprehensive during the Texaco merger given what had happened with Exxon and Mobil.  When we asked our CEO at the time directly about the issue, his response was “Why would we want to go backwards?  We don’t follow Exxon’s lead… and besides, my wife has already asked me about when your group’s Christmas party was going to be.” So, there you go – when people know someone who is LGBT, then the likelihood of discrimination goes down.

When we approached management about updating the employment policies to include gender identity, we thought it would be a slam-dunk – and it was, once we set up the shot.  Fortunately, our executive sponsor made us do the work.

We did our research – but there really wasn’t much in the way of help.  We could only find a couple of examples of transgender policy guidelines– and they were all one-page, four paragraph clones of the one from American Airlines.  We showed that to a couple of stakeholders to gauge their response and started again.

By 2004, the topic was really starting to get traction at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit – and we were able to get more ideas from companies like Kodak, Raytheon and JP Morgan Chase.

Given what we continued to hear from our stakeholders, we knew that we had to have a solid business case, process documentation around transitioning, education materials and training recommendations ready along with the proposal to add those two words “gender identity” to the policy.

It took a bit of doing, but the result was a proposal package that included changes to the HR process handbook, cost/benefit analysis (including potential negative impacts of right-wing haters) and Transgender @ Chevron – a ten-page introduction manual for employees and supervisors.

That level of effort may not be required for each element in the CEI – but as the criteria bar continues to be raised, it might.  The good news is that the benchmarking framework that the CEI criteria provides is a pretty easy roadmap and checklist to follow.

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Left of center Houstonian working in the energy industry and in his spare time on LGBT equality. Current co-Chair of Out & Equal Houston, a regional affliate of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.

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