Post submitted by John K. Barry, member of HRC’s Business Advisory Council

In her piece, The Arbitrary Way Companies Are Labeled ‘Anti-Gay,’ Emily Shire paints the Corporate Equality Index as a qualitative, discretionary award system for HRC’s favorite companies. In reality, as someone who has been involved with the CEI since it began in 2002, I can tell you that it is anything but.

There are two main points that are lost in Ms. Shire’s piece: the CEI is not arbitrary by thoughtful design, and these CEI ratings are the end result of meaningful partnerships with the ranked companies.

It is important to note that the CEI does not exist as a mere evaluation tool. Rather, it came into existence in 2002 to fill a void left by a lack of important protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. In 2002, it was legal to fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation in 38 states and 44 based on gender identity. Today, it is perfectly legal to do this in 29 and 33 states, respectively. 

While LGBT employees still lack these basic workplace protections, and the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act continues to work its way through Congress, Corporate America has forged ahead by working with HRC through the CEI to significantly improve the workplace for LGBT employees.

The CEI is designed to rate large American businesses (and US subsidiaries of some large foreign-based companies) on how they treat their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. The transparent, original criteria can be found on page 2 here. One can see the common threads of equality that connect the 2002 criteria to today’s criteria, after two cycles of much needed updates to the criteria. Very simple, very objective. 

Thanks to this design of transparent, achievable standards, the CEI has moved the needle for the LGBT community when it comes to policies that affect them as employees. This fact is irrefutable, and one particularly illustrative example is that back in 2002, only 5% of those companies scored in the CEI included gender identity in their non-discrimination policies. Over the years through education, increased engagement with HRC and the CEI, and the competitive nature of Corporate America, that number has grown to 86%. 

Aside from producing these incredibly positive changes for thousands of employees working at major corporations, one can easily determine how a final score is calculated for each company. Contrary to what Ms. Shire writes, the report does not evaluate work environments. What it does do is clearly indicate whether a company does or does not:

1.     have an inclusive non-discrimination policy (for 30 points),

2.     offer inclusive benefits for transgender employees and employees’ same-sex domestic partners (35 points),

3.     engage in efforts to educate their workforce on issues of LGBT diversity (20 points), and

4.     promote LGBT equality in a broader, public sense (15 points).

The CEI is neither prescriptive nor arbitrary. The criteria are purposeful in design to eliminate ambiguity and disallow arbitrary points. While the criteria are flexible enough to award credit for how the more than 700 participating companies across industries and geographies “do” diversity, it remains resolute in its core requirements of non-discrimination policies, equitable benefits, and inclusive practices.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the CEI does not randomly recognize companies that meet all the requirements earning them a 100 in the report. Companies are scored where they stand each year.  The movement of companies from lower scores up to 100 show how a single company is making progress for their LBGT employees.

The CEI survey (upon which the report she references is based), is a carefully crafted audit and tool to help companies identify their blind spots and close their gaps when it comes to their employees who happen to be part of the LGBT community. The survey is completed by official company representatives, often hand-in-hand with HRC staff, LGBT employees and employee resource groups, working hard to improve their workplaces for LGBT employees.

CEI scores don’t just happen; they are the result of an investment by those employers and employees who recognize that equality is good for business.

As unfortunate and misrepresentative as Ms. Shire’s piece was, I am pleased to clarify that over the past 12 years the CEI has been the impetus of meaningful changes for LGBT workers. I am proud of how far the CEI and Corporate America have come to recognize and embrace equality since 2002, and look forward to its future impact.  I know that Corporate America would not be the effective ally of equality that it is today without the progress achieved by the CEI.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the participants who engage in the CEI – who invest time and resources into meeting the standards for workplace excellence, and for aligning their corporate values towards equality for all of their employees. 


John K. Barry is a member of HRC’s Business Advisory Council, founded in 1997 to support the Human Rights Campaign's goal of creating an America where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are ensured of basic equal rights — and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community. While not necessarily serving as official representatives of their companies, members provide expert advice and counsel on LGBT workplace issues based on their business experience and knowledge.

Filed under: Workplace, Media

Don't miss a post

Sign up for RSS feeds

Have a news tip?

Share it with us

Community discussion

Read the guidelines