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”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Companies/ Industries -

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

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