Gay pride comes to Hormel, but not with­out push­back

Hormel and Ea­ton are adding poli­cies for LGBT work­ers “Once you put a face to an is­sue, change hap­pens”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS - −Jeff Green

When Hormel Foods added gay pride hol­i­days to its 2012 cor­po­rate cal­en­dar, there was in­stant push­back, re­calls Larry Lyons, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for hu­man re­sources. He re­ceived an­gry e-mails ob­ject­ing to the de­ci­sion, and sev­eral em­ploy­ees con­fronted him in per­son to com­plain. The cal­en­dar, he says, led to “some very dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions that needed to hap­pen” and served as a ref­er­en­dum on Hormel’s sup­port of les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, and trans­gen­der work­ers.

It’s com­mon for com­pa­nies that want to at­tract younger, more di­verse em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing LGBT work­ers, to meet such re­sis­tance, es­pe­cially those in the Mid­west and the South that aren’t in large ur­ban cen­ters. At the same time, in­dus­tries from oil and gas to con­struc­tion are fac­ing greater pres­sure to adopt more open poli­cies.

“We have a so­phis­ti­cated, new kind of em­ployee who’s not just look­ing at what their salary is go­ing to be but at the en­vi­ron­ment they’re go­ing to be work­ing in ev­ery day,” says Sarah Kate El­lis, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Glaad, an LGBT ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion. “They want that en­vi­ron­ment to be in­clu­sive, to be wel­com­ing.” That’s es­pe­cially true of mil­len­ni­als who’ve left cities like New York and San Fran­cisco be­cause of the high cost of liv­ing.

Anti­gay dis­crim­i­na­tion is le­gal in 28 states, rep­re­sent­ing about 54 per­cent of work­ers, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics data. It’s not just the lack of pro­tec­tions that LGBT work­ers con­front; there are 200 bills un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in 33 states this year that are con­sid­ered po­ten­tially hos­tile to gay and trans­gen­der peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign (HRC), which pro­motes LGBT equal­ity.

Hormel’s cal­en­dar was the first sign that wider ac­cep­tance would take time, says Lyons, who’s been with the Austin, Minn.-based com­pany for three decades. Some ex­ec­u­tives ques­tioned the need for the changes af­ter the com­plaints, but CEO Jef­frey Et­tinger quickly re­it­er­ated his com­mit­ment. The com­pany, maker of Spam and Hormel Chili, was partly mo­ti­vated by HRC’s Cor­po­rate Equal­ity In­dex, which scores com­pa­nies in five cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing in­sur­ance ben­e­fits and di­ver­sity train­ing. The scale is from 0— not meet­ing any re­quire­ments of an in­clu­sive work­place—to 100—the most wel­com­ing. In 2011, Hormel scored 15. Soon af­ter, the com­pany asked em­ploy­ees for feed­back on its poli­cies.

This year, a record 407 com­pa­nies scored 100; 66 of those, in­clud­ing Hormel, TD Amer­i­trade, South­west Air­lines, and auto parts maker Ea­ton,

got a per­fect score for the first time. Younger work­ers, no mat­ter what their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, want to be part of a di­verse work­force, Lyons says.

The de­ci­sion to of­fer do­mes­tic part­ner ben­e­fits in 2014 was a big mo­ment in Hormel’s evo­lu­tion, as was last year’s ad­di­tion of trans­gen­der health in­sur­ance cov­er­age—the ben­e­fit pushed the com­pany’s score up to the top. As the ef­forts pro­gressed, there was less push­back, though at least one trans­gen­der em­ployee ex­pe­ri­enced van­dal­ism, says Katie Lar­son, Hormel’s di­rec­tor for hu­man re­sources. Work­ing one-on-one with em­ploy­ees go­ing through gen­der tran­si­tions, she says, has helped her to bet­ter un­der­stand the chal­lenges they con­front. “Once you put a face to an is­sue, change hap­pens,” Lar­son says.

That’s a key first step, says Deena Fi­das, di­rec­tor of HRC’s work­place equal­ity pro­gram. “There’s of­ten just a void, or lack of vis­i­bil­ity, for a com­pany’s LGBT com­mu­nity,” she says. With­out that vis­i­bil­ity, “you’re not go­ing to get fo­cused re­sources or at­ten­tion from hu­man re­sources.” Change is eas­ier to im­ple­ment the more a com­pany sup­ports LGBT work­ers and the more vis­i­ble those work­ers are.

Ea­ton, based in Ohio, a state with no an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion laws, started work on its HRC score three years ago, when it, too, earned just 15 points, ac­cord­ing to Cathy Medeiros, the auto parts maker’s first vice pres­i­dent for in­clu­sion and di­ver­sity. When she was ap­pointed in 2012, Medeiros says, she’d never heard of the in­dex. Anne Geary, a gay IT pro­ject man­ager, was among the em­ploy­ees who brought the low score to Medeiros’s at­ten­tion. Geary reached out to HRC to dis­cuss the in­dex and ways to im­prove its poli­cies. With Carolyn Chev­er­ine, an Ea­ton se­nior at­tor­ney, Medeiros worked to add new in­sur­ance cov­er­age and clar­i­fied poli­cies re­gard­ing LGBT work­ers. “We deal with it,” Medeiros says of the re­sis­tance she still gets. “It’s part of the jour­ney.”

Min­nesota is one of 22 states that in­clude sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion among the cat­e­gories pro­tected from dis­crim­i­na­tion. But Hormel has 11 man­u­fac­tur­ing plants and 14 sales of­fices in states that don’t of­fer sim­i­lar rights. That’s led a com­pa­ny­wide LGBT re­source group, HProud & Al­lies, to start dis­cus­sions with hu­man re­sources in all of its of­fices about the chal­lenges some work­ers face. Of­fice trans­fers, for ex­am­ple, can be a source of ten­sion for gay work­ers who are be­ing asked to move to an of­fice in a state with fewer pro­tec­tions.

HProud, with about 130 mem­bers, has monthly tele­con­fer­ences for em­ploy­ees in scat­tered lo­ca­tions to join in the dis­cus­sions. Hormel will soon start what it calls an am­bas­sador pro­gram to help iden­tify LGBT work­ers in re­mote places who can or­ga­nize and run events like a re­cent Na­tional Com­ing Out Day held in Austin— work­ers across the com­pany joined in via FaceTime on iPads. The ini­tia­tives have clearly picked up steam. As Lyons says of Hormel’s HRC score: “Our jour­ney from 15 to 20 points up to 70 was more dif­fi­cult than go­ing up to 100.”

En­sur­ing Hormel’s mes­sage is con­sis­tent through­out the com­pany is im­por­tant, says An­dre Goodlett, cor­po­rate man­ager for di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion. “We fo­cus on be­hav­ior, not the be­liefs,” he says. “I can have some im­pact on your be­hav­ior while you’re a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the com­pany. You can ei­ther par­tic­i­pate in those be­hav­iors or not. That’s a sim­ple choice.”

The bot­tom line Heart­land com­pa­nies like Hormel and Ea­ton are ex­pand­ing ben­e­fit pro­grams to at­tract em­ploy­ees—in­clud­ing LGBT work­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.