Corporate Support for the Trans Community: Reality and
"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life" -- Confucious
September 24, 2007
When is a job more than a job? When it's a passion. Your "job" is often than simply a place where you spend a third or more of your typical weekday. It's more than a paycheck. For many, it's an identity. It's a sense of belonging, and a source of pride. It's a social network, a sense of security, a reason to get out of bed every day. I daresay that a job is almost always more than just a job in one way or another and if it's not then that's a problem. That's why being unemployed or under-employed is more than simply a blow to your finances. It's a blow to self-esteem, to self-worth, to self-identity, to person-hood.
The latest edition of the annual survey of Corporate America GLBT policy, the HRC Corporate Equality Index, was released a week ago (see it here). It was released with great fanfare (see the press release) and is a source of continued pride and achievement for many of us. The CEI rates companies on a number of criteria regarding their policies covering gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. I've discussed it in depth before, so there's no need to rehash it all here.
Many have come to regard at the CEI as the be-all, end-all of corporate GLBT policy. Others criticize if for not being broad enough, strict enough, or for things being things it was never meant to be in the first place. Personally, I'm at neither of those extremes. I'm somewhere in the middle. The purpose of this piece isn't to defend it or sell it. It's to put it into perspective.
The overall message this year is that Corporate America is more gay (and by default, trans) friendly than ever. Indeed, the bottom line is that the number of companies that are receiving a perfect score is 195, up 41% from last year. In his introduction at the beginning of the booklet HRC President Joe Solmonese states: "There is no doubt that government will have to play catch-up with businesses that have raced to provide fair workplaces for their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees." This is true.
Joe provides a weekly update to Board members, and in his message from 9/21 he said:
On Monday, HRC released its 2008 Corporate Equality Index and both the report and the businesses it rates have received a great deal of attention. This year, 195 companies received a perfect 100 percentóup from 138 last year. The Index rates employers on a scale from 0 to 100 percent on their treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, consumers and investors. The 195 businesses that met all of the criteria employ more than 8.3 million workers. The report shows that more businesses than ever before have recognized the value of a diverse and dedicated workforce. These employers understand that discrimination against GLBT workers will ultimately hurt their ability to compete in the global marketplace. For some great stories about the CEI, visit www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2007/09/18/BU33S7RU8.DTL&type=politics and www.orlandosentinel.com/business/orl-gayfriendly18sep18,0,3739174.story. The report can be downloaded from HRCís website at www.hrc.org/cei.
One of the most impressive findings
from the CEI was the rapid progress made by transgender workers.
For the first time, a majority of rated firmsó58
percentóprovided employment protections on the basis of gender
identity. This represents a 46 percent increase from last year.
Out of all the criteria that the CEI measures, this one related
to protections for transgender workers saw the largest increase.
Dr. Jillian Todd Weiss provides an excellent breakdown of this years report, from a trans perspective, on her blog (read it here).
Since its inception in 2001 the CEI has quickly become the single-most significant workplace tool for GLBT employees. That fact is indisputable. It has provided a roadmap for workplace support, and has quickly become the standard by which workplaces are measured. When I was at Dell we implemented supportive policy specifically to achieve a perfect score of 100 on the survey and I know of others who can share similar stories from their own companies.
The fact that the CEI has become a respected corporate diversity barometer mean that companies are actively trying to achieve good scores. Companies are quick to leverage their good scores with the understanding that it is a reflection of an inclusive work environment. This achievement is leveraged in terms of goodwill, recruiting and retention, and of establishing/solidifying a position as an employer of choice. No less importantly, it is used to send a message of support and acceptance to potential GLBT consumers, a huge market where companies are jockying for position.
Like planes on a busy runway, well-known companies are already lining up to share the good news of their perfect score on the 2008 CEI with the world. Here are just a few of dozens of the headlines from the first 6 hours after the report was released:
You get the idea. Good diversity is good for business. Businesses leverage their diversity achievements loudly and broadly in an increasingly competitive market for consumers and talent.
These victories are often hard fought, and each has a story of how it came to be. It's often the result of tireless work by a champion who works at the company who is able to press the company to do the right thing. Sometimes the champion is a worker bee like you or me. Sometimes it's an executive. Sometimes it's an inspired ally who attends Out and Equal and realizes that we're not protected in ways most assume we are. Often, these achievements are months or years in the making. Everyone should take tremendous pride in what they have been able to achieve, and in the groundswell of support in corporate America.
But, there is another side to this that needs to be discussed. All is not necessarily as rosy as mere statistics and lofty survey scores might indicate.
It needs to be stressed that the CEI is a measurement of corporate policy. Does that policy always translate into active support? Do companies necessarily know what they're signing up for when they implement these policies? Is there an inherent link between corporate policy and corporate culture? Do these policies prevent bad things from happening to GLBT employees? In all cases, the realistic answer is "no" so thinking that a perfect score necessarily translates into a truly supportive work environment for transgender workers would be making a huge leap of faith. Supportive policy does not always translate into true or active support.
There is a difference between policy-based support and active support. One is on paper. It looks good. It represents the law. The other is much more difficult to measure or define. It's how policy is actually implemented. It's what the company does above and beyond simple words.
With these distinctions in mind, let me share some recent observations and thoughts.
Observation #1: Supportive policy rarely seems to translate into hiring policy.
Companies don't seem to be hiring qualified transgender workers. The glass ceiling for us isn't a ceiling inside the company, it's blocking the door to get into the company in the first place.
I continue to believe that the single-most significant issue facing transgender individuals in this country remains unemployment and under-employment. I could rattle off a dozen dear friends who had very successful careers and long-histories of achievement at with their employers, who left their job for one reason or another and have been unemployed ever since. Sometimes itís six months, a year, two years. Once they're out they can't get back in, and if they find a job at all it's something for minimum wage that's far below their skillset or potential. Itís horrible.
Others try to make it as self-employed but that provides another whole set of challenges. Some find themselves with few options: demoralized, broke, scared, alone, unhappy and it can lead to any number of unpleasant decisions. The point of the matter, and this is a key point, is that unemployment remains an epidemic for the transgender community. The lofty scores of the CEI rarely seem to make their way to recruiters and hiring managers. As a result, we don't get jobs we're more than qualified to do and most probably would have gotten if we weren't trans.
You might be ok if youíre at a company that implements supportive policy. Maybe, maybe not. I donít want anyone to believe for a second that just because a company has a good score on that index that everything is wonderful there. In fact, I know trans-people who work at the same company where one personís experience has been wonderful and the others has been horrible. Why? Lots of reasons. But the bottom line is that each experience depends on a number of factors Ė many of which are outside our control.
This is a huge dilemma for us. Whatís the point of a company updating itís discrimination policy and of adding transgender wellness benefits to its insurance plan if theyíre not actually hiring any of us to take advantage of these policies? These become benefits that look good on paper, but will never be used. More than that, though, is that it companies who implement these kinds of things actually attract transgender job seekers. We want to work there. But none of us get in.
Let me compare it to a similar dilemma. Only the most naive would truly believe that slavery in America ended with signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. It simply made it illegal. In reality slavery existed in this country well into the 20th century. Furthermore, the fear in many whites that their patriarchal racial privilege would erode and disappear gave rise to violence and hatred that made the lives of many legally freed slaves more dangerous and horrific than it had ever been. Just as racism didn't end when a piece of paper was signed to pass a law, the prejudices that continue to plague many in the GLBT community at workplaces and in society will not end that way either. It's important to remember that. Bad things can still happen, and do.
I sometimes think a more telling metric of supportive companies isnít simply based on published policy, itís based numbers of actual employees. How many openly GLBT employees are there at the company? How many openly GLBT people are in management? That, of course, assumes that employees there are even comfortable enough to self-identify as GLB or T in the first place. These things are all tangible reflections of the internal climate of a company. A company like IBM, with a long history of support actually has dozens of GLBT people in management roles. Dell, on the other hand, which also has a perfect score on the CEI has less than 3. What does that tell you about the perception of what being out as GLBT means to your career at the company? You can decide that for yourself. Trust me Ė there is a connection.
Observation #2: Truly supportive companies need to be actively supportive companies.
My father had a saying: "Base your understanding of true motivation upon what people do, not upon what they say." This advice has served me well.
Let me provide a recent example of companies that have stepped up in this regard, and of others who have not:
My passion for workplace efforts got me involved in the 2007 Southern Comfort Conference Career Expo. We started planning this ground breaking event 14 months ago, even before last yearís SCC. It was a tremendously ambitious effort that has come together amazingly well for a number of reasons. First, the board of SCC is forward-thinking and is open to ways of expanding the conference in ways that affect the day-to-day lives of all transgender people. Without Cat, Kristin, and the rest of the gang championing this it never would have happened. Second, weíve had a great partnership with HRC on this. They have leveraged their contacts, they have provided guidance, they have actively worked to make it successful. One of our greatest initial fears was, what if we threw a Career Expo and nobody came? That would send a very real message in and of itself. Thankfully, that didnít happen, and this first year of the Career Expo boasted almost 2-dozen Fortune 500 companies and national organizations as sponsors and supporters. It was a showcase event (read an article about it here) and a wonderfully done article about appeared in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, one of the most influential newspaper in the country (read it here). Thatís huge stuff!.
Those of us involved in the planning have learned first-hand that, as with the CEI, all is not as rosy as it might appear. There is a backstory that is just as telling as what actually transpired. Conspicuously absent from the list of companies who chose to be there were companies that actively chose NOT to be. Iím significantly disappointed by some of them: Kodak, Sodexho, Starbucks, IBM. These companies have been supportive in the past but were not present at the Expo. It canít be the money Ė the cost for a table was only $150. One person at one of the supportive companies indicated that sheíd pay the money out of her own pocket if she couldnít find it somewhere in her budget. All I can say is that I hope to seem them there next year.
Just last week I received an email from Starbuck's Coffee indicating that they've implemented Transgender protections for their workers (read about it here) and, for the first time have reached a score of 100 on the CEI. This is great news - I remember being involved in early discussions with the company to get the ball rolling almost two years ago . I'll admit, however, that my appretiation for this achievement is muted by the fact that they chose not to attend the Career Expo. It seems to me that this is exactly the kind of company that should be there but the fact is that it wasn't a priority so it never happened.
Particularly disappointing and infuriating to me were the local Atlanta-based companies who chose to pass. These are companies who are enjoying the benefits of their CEI 100% scores, but could not find a reason to support this historic event. Itís not as though they have to face the travel expenses of sending people to attend Ė theyíre already there! Still Ė no active support. Even if theyíre not actively hiring, demonstrating support for the community by being a presence sends a message as a consumer (the same as NOT doing so sends a very different message).
I spoke with the Chief Diversity Officer at Coca-Cola. They weren't at the Expo. What about Sun Trust? And Cox Communications? And Newell-Rubbermaid? All were contacted. All were engaged. All chose to pass. Other Fortune 500 companies are based in Atlanta: Delta Airlines, Home Depot. Again: all were contacted but none were are there. Verizon waffled and, at one point, seemed to be a lock before some VP somewhere didn't want to get involved so it died. Sprint, on the other hand, joined quickly.
I could share more behind-the-scenes intrigue. The point, though, is that the companies and groups who have chosen to be at SCC this year deserve thanks and support for truly being there for us. I, for one, will remember these things as a consumer when it comes to making purchasing decisions. Coca Cola or Pepsi? Iím not too happy with Coke right now. More than that, though, is that these companies need to hear from us. They need to know that weíre watching, that although weíre thankful that theyíve implemented supportive policy weíre holding them accountable to actually be supportive in ways that transcend words.
Observation #3: Supportive policy often doesn't make it's way to middle management.
Often, it's not that the company is choosing to diss us. The fact of the matter is that the people who need to implement the policy aren't getting the message. Internally, as far as the people who made it happen, the company has done the right thing. The problem is that the people who need to actually make it happen don't know how, or sometimes don't even get the message. Do I believe that the fact that some of these companies chose NOT to be at SCC this year was based on the company policy? No. Sometimes, it's the person. That doesn't make it any better, though. Accountability is still there. It does, however, underscore the need for companies to educate internally, and to work on their communications.
Observation #4: Companies need to be held accountable.
Who needs to do this? You do. I do. We all do. Each of us who works at a company needs to be vigilant that the company policy translated into an inclusive work environment. If we see discrepancies we need to report it. Send them to me, or send them to HRC directly (firstname.lastname@example.org). Each of us needs to push our company to actively support us, to thank them when they do, and to let them know that we're disappointed when they don't. If policy and practice don't match - there's a problem.
We need to understand that this is new to many companies, that they need some guidance here, and they need someone to help them along. Still, there comes a point where it becomes apparent that it's just not happening. We've got an amazing array of talent to help companies do these things. All they need to do is to want to.
Personally, I plan to write to each of the companies that participated at SCC this year and thank them. And, I intend to write to several of the companies who chose not to be there and to share my disappointment with them. The more of us who do that, the more they'll get the message.
Observation #5: The best of the best
When is 100 actually more than 100? When you don't have any way to truly recognized those who go above and beyond. I say this because there are companies who have implemented policy at their workplaces that far exceeds the arguably low minimum standards set by the CEI. For transgender employees, the place that this is often most significant is Transgender Wellness Benefits policy. That's the litmus test.
I don't want to get into a long discussion about exclusions and the inequities that transgender employees face in most workplaces around the country. It's much too broad a topic to tackle here. The important point is that the CEI identifies 5 different transgender wellness benefits (Mental Health Counseling, Hormone Therapy, Medical Visits, Surgical Procedures, Short-term disability) and all a company needs to do to attain a perfect score of 100 is to implement one of them. While this is an admittedly low requirement, the goals of introducing them were to (a) educate corporate America about transgender wellness benefits and (b) encourage companies to go above and beyond the minimum standards with the understanding that more will be required the next time we update the CEI.
The reason I mention this is because a number of companies have implemented all 5 transgender wellness benefits. The implication is that these companies cover transgender related surgical procedures to one degree or another. This is huge stuff, and if I were just starting to transition I'd begin my job search by looking at these companies. I asked the people at the Workplace Project to run a query of all these companies and make them available as an online resource. They have done that. As of 9/19/2007, the list of companies that provide ALL the transgender wellness benefits is here.
I get quite a bit of email asking me what companies are supportive by people looking to change jobs. Here are some places where I'd start if I were to begin that search:
Corporate Policy Database:
HRC has a database of corporate policy that is available online to anyone who knows where to find it. They have recently re-designed their website and it seems to have gotten lost in the move. However, itís still there (You can access it here). Iím told that there is a new, improved version with more tools and more search criteria on the way.
Using it is simple. There are a number of criteria you can search on. By clicking on the (+/-) signs on the left hand side of the screen you can expand or contract the list. Select the criteria you want and a list of companies that meet that criteria will be displayed. You can sort the company by size, or state, or CEI score, by clicking on the up or down arrows under the column header. And, you can see specifics of the company by clicking on a given company name.
This is a helpful tool. However, as with most things that are data driven, it is only as accurate as the data it is provided. HRC does NOT have a full staff chasing down all the information that it is given so we need to help make sure information about companies is accurate. If not, HRC needs to be aware so it can be fixed. I, for one, am grateful that this real-time information is available at all.
Corporate Contact Names:
The reason I mention this is that if you look at the detail of a particular company, at the bottom of the page there is usually at least one or more people to contact from the company - name, position, phone, email. Sometimes itís the person who provides the score. Other times itís someone from the company GLBT Employee Resource group. The reason itís important is that it gives you someone to reach at the company to get the REAL scoop, and who may be able to help you to overcome the hiring hurdle. Sometimes they can help to steer your resume through the red tape. It's far better to start with a name than to simply be another online resume, or an email.
2 a (1): a misleading image presented to the vision (2): something that deceives or misleads intellectually b (1): perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature
Is the groundswell of Corporate support for transgender employees real or is it an illusion? Yes. It's both. There's no one-size-fits-all answer. The fact that some companies are leveraging their high diversity scores despite the fact that they don't hire, promote, understand, educate about, or appreciate transgender employees galls me. At the same time, the work of champions in workplaces around the country each and every day are impacting our lives in real and tangible ways. The progress we're seeing is a direct result of their efforts.
But it's up to each of us to be vigilant and aware. We need to hold companies accountable to do the things they say they do. We need to realize that these policies are more than words, and indeed there is an intangible spirit inherent in them. Helping companies to implement not only the word but also the spirit, and holding companies accountable, is an ongoing chore. I daresay, however, that it is a chore well worth doing, as a job is truly more than a job. It's not that it defines us, but it's part of who we are.
* * * *