What We Can Learn From Fortune 500s

A record number of companies - more than 95 percent - include anti-discrimination policies today

Photo by Think Stock

As states like Pennsylvania fail to include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination legislation, we can learn a lot about why policies like these work from some of the most successful – and profitable – Fortune 500 companies in the world. More than 95 percent of them (477 in total) voluntarily include sexual orientation in employment non-discrimination policies today.

And the numbers keep going up. Why? Because it makes good business sense.

Since 2004, Philly’s own Equality Forum has been working with educators like Professor Louis Thomas of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Ian Ayres, a William K. Townsend Professor at Yale Law School, to reach out to Fortune 500 CEOs, HR directors, members of boards and even shareholders. When they got started, only 323 (64.6 percent) of these companies provided workplace protection for sexual orientation.

Trouble is a lot of Americans don’t realize that employees can be fired just for being gay in states like Pennsylvania – and at companies that refuse to embrace non-discrimination policies.

“Ninety percent of Americans mistakenly believe that sexual orientation workplace protection is provided under the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia mandate workplace sexual orientation protection,” says Malcolm Lazin, Equality Forum’s executive director. “In most of America, gays and lesbians can be fired solely because of their sexual orientation and without any misconduct or violation of corporate policy.”

This is all too real in Pennsylvania, where neither sexual orientation nor gender identity are protected. Perhaps the federal government needs to take a page from these corporate play books in which CEO after CEO have publicly stated that having these protections in place is tantamount to attracting top talent.

“Equality Forum calls on Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid and Speaker John Boehner and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to include sexual orientation and gender identity in ENDA and pass that amendment to ENDA in the lame duck session of Congress,” says Lazin. “The Republican vice presidential nominee and Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees, the FORTUNE 500 companies and public opinion support including sexual orientation in the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. There is overwhelming bipartisan and business support for protecting LGBT Americans in the workplace and no rational basis for delay.”

According to recent polls, more than 75 percent of Americans support the inclusion of sexual orientation in the federal ENDA, including a majority of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, seniors, Catholics and small business owners.

Click here to learn more about why these protections are important – and to find out who’s who among Fortune 500s implementing them (or not) today.