How Can You Create an LGBT-Friendly Workplace?

When Pfizer sought to explore ways to reach smokers with its smoking-cessation product, the pharmaceutical giant tapped its talent pool last year for ideas. Since studies indicate a higher percentage of the LGBT population smokes cigarettes than the heterosexual population, Pfizer identified leaders from within its LGBT-colleague population to partner with the multicultural-marketing department to consider a targeted outreach to LGBT smokers.

Although the business-development details are still being determined, the initiative has far-reaching benefits. “We’ll also improve health within the LGBT community,” says Wil Yates, senior manager of information analysis and co-chair of both Pfizer’s New York City–based colleague-resource group, Out Pfizer Employee Network (OPEN), and the Global LGBT Council. Pfizer is one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies this year.

An LGBT-friendly workplace has far-reaching benefits as well. DiversityInc uses inclusive criteria to determine The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® as well as the 12 other lists, including The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees. Organizations on The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees list must:

  • Offer same-sex domestic-partner/spousal benefits
  • Have an employee-resource group aimed at LGBT employees and allies
  • Actively recruit LGBT people
  • Include content on their web sites aimed at LGBT employees and customers
  • Have a 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which has seen a 17 percent jump over the past year in U.S. businesses earning the top rating (from 260 in 2009 to 305 in 2010) despite the down economy

In addition, DiversityInc confers with respected LGBT organizations—GLSEN, Human Rights Campaign and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, for example—for recommendations.

How Progressive Companies Create Welcoming Workplaces:

Leverage Employee-Resource Groups

Pfizer, the first pharmaceutical company to earn a 100 percent score on the CEI in 2004, has a global network of about 500 LGBT and allied members that has grown exponentially since being chartered in the early 2000s. (All of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies have LGBT employee-resource groups, or ERGs, versus 30 percent five years ago.)

In 2002, members of the New York, Michigan and Connecticut chapters of the LGBT group worked with the legal, HR and executive teams to institute same-sex domestic-partner or spousal benefits. Pfizer has since expanded its benefits to include gender-reassignment surgery. And with input from transgender employees who have transitioned in the workplace, OPEN is now collaborating across several departments to develop gender-transition guidelines. “It’s all about education,” says Yates.

Click here to read the main reasons companies cite for creating an LGBT-friendly workplace.

Similarly, KPMG (No. 15 in the DiversityInc Top 50) taps its Pride ERG for advice in several critical areas, including recruiting. The group reviews all materials provided at on-campus events and conferences, noting verbiage, suggesting information pertinent to LGBT recruits and contributing testimonials. “It’s all about bringing your whole self to work—and that’s the message we want to provide to undergrads,” says Timothy Stiles, the group’s national co-chair and partner in charge of the Global Grants Program. Pride members also coach the firm’s recruiting personnel, preparing them with answers to questions job candidates may raise and “sensitizing them to LGBT issues [including micro-inequities],” says Stiles. KPMG was the first Big Four accounting firm to have a comprehensive policy for transgender employees and is No. 6 on The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees list.

But creating an environment where openness flourishes requires leadership commitment, notes Pfizer’s Chief Diversity Officer Karen Boykin-Towns. “Our chairman and CEO is a real advocate … for all diversity, but particularly in this space,” she says, adding that the executive sponsor of the Pfizer Global LGBT Network reports directly to the CEO. “The work OPEN is doing throughout the company is making it more comfortable for people to come out.”

Include LGBT Leaders in Business Development

Openly out leaders often provide effective and valuable insights where “traditional outreach might not be so successful,” says Boykin-Towns.
Developing these leaders, however, is key. American Express (No. 12 in the DiversityInc Top 50) is planning an employee leadership-development summit this fall to help train and enable several members of its Pride and other networks to take on decision-making roles. American Express—whose national Pride network has eight chapters and about 1,000 members (including 50 from the recently launched chapter in Mexico)—will be hosting this collaborative leadership event with Johnson & Johnson (No. 2) and Aetna (No. 30).

Endorse LGBT Events and Causes

A consistent commitment to sponsor pride events and LGBT nonprofits helps foster a positive brand identity. Consider the corporate partners of GLSEN, a national education organization that works to ensure safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. They include Wells Fargo & Co. (No. 43), KPMG, Cisco Systems (No. 37), American Express, AT&T (No. 3) and IBM (No. 8)—well-respected companies that have also earned spots on this year’s DiversityInc Top 50 list. Pfizer and American Express were also recently recognized by GLSEN at its Respect Awards in New York City. 

American Express has taken the event-endorsement strategy to a new level. The merchant-services division, responsible for signing on retailers to accept the American Express credit card, paired up with members of its UK chapter of Pride in the weeks prior to the annual corporate-sponsored Stonewall Equality Walk. Together, they canvassed hundreds of merchants in Brighton, a popular LGBT community about an hour outside London, and asked each to display a Stonewall Equality Walk decal with the American Express logo in their windows. “So now it’s not just our service reps having a conversation with a merchant,” says Peraino. “They have a Pride employee who can talk about the importance of that walk, the community and the fact that we as a company support it. It creates a different conversation—a relationship-building conversation.”
The result: 89 percent of the visited merchants agreed to display the decal, and American Express (also No. 8 in The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees) signed on four new merchants. The company is brainstorming ways to apply this and other LGBT-focused strategies in the United States.

Pipeline initiatives are equally important. Each year at Pfizer, for instance, up to 10 employees mentor at-risk LGBT students who attend the Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan.

Add LGBT-Owned Business Suppliers

Pfizer’s diversity-leadership team has partnered with the procurement department to expand contract-bidding opportunities to LGBT-owned enterprises. Earlier this year, vendors certified by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce were added to the company’s supplier database, and Pfizer has already contracted new business to a lesbian-owned marketing-communications company.

Likewise, American Express has been building a database of LGBT-owned suppliers and, with its recently announced head of procurement, will begin opening up contract opportunities to these vendors for products and services. In the LGBT community, “supplier diversity really makes a difference,” says Peraino. “We’re going to make sure the focus gets shined on that within the coming year.”

Start a Diversity Dialogue

Having an LGBT-friendly company has an added benefit: It helps form an affinity with allied groups. Four years ago, when Pfizer introduced its Pride Journal (a collection of heartfelt first-person accounts written by LGBT or allied employees that’s posted on its intranet during the month of June), a healthy dialogue on sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination was started. “That really put issues of LGBT rights on the map for our broader colleague population,” says Nicholas Patrick, manager of worldwide communications and co-chair of both OPEN and the Pfizer Global LGBT Council.

Similarly, when American Express rolled out its global branding campaign that featured, among other stars, lesbian talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, it became an instant hit with all consumers. So for all corporate leaders who fear the backlash of aligning the business with the LGBT community, take a tip from Peraino: “There really is no downside.”


  • Anonymous

    I believe that the dialogic approach to diversity training might well be more effective, especially in helping to change person’s mindsets, which are at the root of changing person’s behaviors.

  • Anonymous

    While the efforts of companies like American Express and Pfizer are, on surface, laudable thaty sound remarkably like efforts to address racial minorities in the past, e.g including minority leaders in business development; supporting minority causes and events; adding minority owned business suppliers; starting a dialogue. As a Black man with three decades working in corporations, my experience tells me that this is all transitory.

    As interest fades, the business environment changes and management moves on the support and momentum of these initiatives will diminish. You can take an Affirmative Action written in the 1980’s, change the dates, and present it now in 2010 and still get push back because it’s “too aggressive”.

    In the business world, people (and the organizations they populate) do what they do because there’s a payoff … people do what they get rewarded for. Until there’s a direct correlation between diversity results and compensation, LGBT initiatives – like minority and women’s corporate initiatives – will ultimately become the next movement of the moment.

  • Anonymous

    I have no need to know of anyone’s sexual orientation in the workplace.

  • Anonymous

    Do we have to know about anyone sexul orientation??? It is their own business and should and must not impact on the business needs.
    Help me understand the need?

  • Anonymous

    Hey, I’m asexual. Can we create a more work-friendly environment for me? If not, then can we call that discrimination?

  • Anonymous

    I absolutely agree with Luke’s comment above (21Jun2010). Seeing it from a business perspective, team leaders usually strive to create cross-functional teams with as much diversity as possible in a bid to bring in the X-factor(s) that all this imported diversity carries along.. The more diverse a team is, the more creative the interaction will be. See it from a completely different angle now.. When you’re faced with an issue that bothers you, one might want to seek advice or talk about it with as many of their friends (family, or social circle for that matter), again in a bid to analyse the problem from various angles and seek various feedback that might contribute to a better choice. To sum it up, acknowledging, accepting and promoting diversity in the modern workplace, is a clear win-win situation for both parties involved (employer+employee). As far as Guest’s comment (17Jun2010) is concerned, NO you don’t have to be out, or know anyone’s sexual orientation, but it’s certainly good to know that the support network exists, because people can show/unleash their true potential and evolve, in open and including environments. Best regards to all, Dimitris from Greece.

  • Anonymous

    You are right we do not need to know people´s sexual orientation but heterosexual community always talk about it my wife/husband , my son , my daugther , etc …. so why is it important for them to share such things … what makes them acceptable and the gay community is not acceptable … that is not equality … so inclusion and tolerance and non discrimmination environment is in order Thanks

  • While it may not be necessary for someone to know their coworker’s sexual orientation, the fact that there are companies out there who seek to make their workplace more open for the LGBT community can be extremely comforting to those of us who are in said community. The fact that there is support out there for them can help them excel at their job, and can help them to be an overall happier person. I feel like regardless of sexual orientation, you should be able to talk about your family at work without discrimination. Personally, I would be proud to work for a company like Pfizer or American Express, one that promotes a safe work space for their LGBT employees.

    • I really don’t know much about Pfizer or American Express -neither are on our Top 50 list, and neither are on our Top 10 companies for LGBT employees

      Wells Fargo
      Time Warner
      Marriott International
      Eli Lilly and Company
      MassMutual Financial Group

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