Some 86% of Fortune 500 firms now ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, up from 61% in 2002. Around 50% also ban discrimination against transsexuals, compared with 3% in 2002. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an American pressure group, measures corporate policies towards sexual minorities in its annual “equality index”. Of the 636 companies that responded to its survey this year, 64% offer the same medical benefits for same-sex partners as for heterosexual spouses. Some 30% scored a fabulous 100% on the group’s index.
Progress has taken place in a wide range of industries. The 100% club predictably contains plenty of talent-driven outfits such as banks and consultancies (including Mitt Romney’s old employer, Bain & Company). But it also includes industrial giants such as Alcoa, Dow Chemical, Ford, Owens Corning and Raytheon. Lord Browne, the boss of BP who resigned after his sex life made headlines in 2007, said he always remained in the closet because “it was obvious to me that it was simply unacceptable to be gay in business, and most definitely the oil business.” Today Chevron, one of BP’s toughest competitors, has a 100% rating.
Companies are competing with each other to produce the most imaginative gay-friendly policies. American Express has an internal “pride network” with more than 1,000 members. Cisco gives gay workers a bonus to make up for an anomaly in the American tax code. (If you are married, the cost of various insurance premiums is deducted from your pre-tax income, but if you are merely a partner it is deducted from your post-tax income.) Some companies vocally support gay marriage. In the past fortnight Lloyd Blankfein, the boss of Goldman Sachs, has accepted an invitation from HRC to become its first corporate spokesman for gay nuptials, and seven big companies, including Microsoft and Nike, have written to Congress to support the idea.
What caused this corporate revolution? Pressure groups such as HRC and Britain’s Stonewall can take some of the credit. But mostly it happened because changing attitudes in society at large have reduced the cost of being gay-friendly, and raised the rewards. A generation ago in the West, creating a gay-friendly workplace might have upset heterosexual staff. Now it probably won’t. But failing to treat gays equally is very likely to drive them to seek employment elsewhere. Since they are perhaps 5-10% of the global talent pool, bigotry makes a firm less competitive.
Being fair to gays is arguably simpler than being fair to women. Women really do differ from men in the amount of time, on average, that they take off to raise children. And there is no obvious answer to questions such as: “how much paid maternity leave should a small firm offer?” From an employer’s perspective, gays do not differ from straights in any way that matters.