At Work and Out of the Closet in the Heartland
Diversity ▶ Hormel and Eaton are adding policies for LGBT workers ▶ “Once you put a face to an issue, change happens”
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,
States that outlaw employment discrimination based on sexual orientation