For over 20 years, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index has helped advance LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace. Launched in 2002, years after the organization began its work with businesses, it has since served as a roadmap and benchmarking tool for businesses on their adoption of inclusive policies, practices and benefits, factors which help enhance the overall quality of life of LGBTQ+ employees. Through help from the CEI, employers have recruited and retained LGBTQ+ employees, helping to diversify their work talent while also moving toward progressive spaces, increasing positive brand recognition.
However, establishing equality in the workplace for LGBTQ+ workers has been a challenge for many employers. To help employers assess exactly where they stand regarding LGBTQ+ workplace equality, the CEI began rating employers — ranging from a score of 0 to 100 — back in 2002 strictly on seven criteria:
Adaption of a non-discrimination policy covering sexual orientation and another covering gender identity and/or expression
Offering health coverage honoring domestic and civil partnerships
Creating and supporting an LGBTQ+ employee resource group
Offering diversity trainings on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression
Ethically engaging with the LGBTQ+ community or LGBTQ+ organizations
Doesn’t engage in corporate activity which would undermine LGBTQ+ equality efforts
Companies were and continue to be drawn from Fortune 500 listings, Forbes Private 500 listings, and other companies with at least 500 employees. The index does not rate colleges and universities, government employers, nonprofits or companies with fewer than 500 employees.
Companies digitally receive the CEI survey and have four months to complete it, with ongoing support from HRC staff. HRC researchers then take additional months to investigate the responses.
In 2002, just 13 businesses received perfect scores out of the 319 companies that were rated. By 2005, that number grew to 100. In this year’s CEI, a total of 842 businesses received a perfect score from the overall total of 1,271 rated businesses.
"We’ve truly seen a strong commitment to LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion in the workplace from corporations and businesses, many of which have strived to create LGBTQ+ employee resource groups and expand their employee benefits. This being the 20th anniversary of the CEI, there’s enough compiled information and results to juxtapose where LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace was 20 years ago compared to where it is today. It’s evident that corporate America has realized that equality is good for business and have genuinely invested time, money and effort to ensuring their LGBTQ+ employees feel safe and seen.”
This 20th issue of the CEI, Williams said, is a strong indicator that LGBTQ+ employees feel more comfortable with living authentically while at work and feel affirmed.
“The number of perfect scorers has been increasing,” Williams said. “This indicates that because of the culture at work, LGBTQ+ people feel more comfortable being out and themselves at work. In 2002, it’s possible that many LGBTQ+ people weren’t out at work because they felt unsafe and uncomfortable. The CEI has helped create a work environment and culture where employees feel comfortable being themselves. If there’s anything to celebrate after 20 years of the CEI, it's that.”
One of the companies which has been rated since the 2001 launch of the CEI is General Electric. Karen Morgan, CFM Operations Manager for General Electric, a longtime HRC volunteer who serves on our Board of Directors, said that the CEI came “at a time when there weren’t many protections in place for LGBTQ+ people, either in the public or private sector.”
“One of the main outcomes of the CEI was to move the private sector forward in this space,” said Morgan. “Companies compete for talent, and scoring well on indices like the CEI positions a company well for prospective employees. It’s not just LGBTQ+ people looking at CEI scores when they are looking for where to work. Non-LGBTQ+ people also use the CEI score as an overall indicator of a company’s inclusion policies. As a result of companies moving ahead of the public sector in this space, for many people, their company might be the only safe space for them, where they can bring their whole selves, and also have protections and benefits for family members.”
Morgan said that the most apparent change since the launch of the CEI is companies’ efforts to create LGBTQ+ employee resource groups, an indicator that LGBTQ+ employees are feeling more visible in the workplace than ever before.
“At General Electric, in 2002, there were no LGBTQ+ ERGs, no LGBTQ+ training. Flash forward to 2021 and we’ve established both. We’ve done 12 ally workshops at GE Aviation alone, and have had groups coming to us to ask for education sessions.”
Steven Del Gaizo, president of the LGBTQ+ employee resource group at General Motors, which has long participated in and received favorable scores in different variations of the CEI, said that the index “helps General Motors maintain a safe, inclusive environment for our employees.”
“GM has a long history of maintaining a top score in the CEI,” said Del Gaizo. “In the past, GM passed protections for employees based on sexual orientation, gender identity, ensured equal benefits for all members of our community, developed a robust LGBTQ+ training program for all employees, created gender transition guidelines, and signed on in support for the Equality Act. Many LGBTQ+ and allied employees consider having a top CEI score as an important factor when they are considering their employment options. I believe the CEI provides a great resource for employees to evaluate how companies are supporting the LGBTQ+ community.”
Del Gaizo believes that staying on top of the CEI’s developments helps companies like General Motors maintain an inclusive workplace environment.
“As the HRC CEI policies change and progress, every company reevaluates and updates their policies not only to maintain a top score but, more importantly, to ensure they have a truly inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Del Gaizo. “Maintaining a top score in the CEI makes certain that companies are acting responsibly and supporting their LGBTQ+ employees.”
While the CEI might provide companies with a score to provide a snapshot of where they stand regarding LGBTQ+ equality, it also facilitates conversations about next steps.
“Our first score was around a 70 mainly because we didn’t have transgender inclusive health benefits in place. We built a business case around GE moving toward a 100 score, and educated our leaders on the costs of adding the trans health benefits as well as the benefit to the business around attracting talent. The CEI gave us a way to use data to build our business case. And the HRC Foundation Workplace team worked closely with us and provided resources and data to help us build our story.”
To celebrate the index’s 20th anniversary, the HRC Foundation hosted “Celebrating 20 Years of Impact: HRC Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Edition of the Corporate Equality Index'' where the results of the 2022 CEI were announced and recognized the efforts of all the corporate champions of LGBTQ+ equality. Speakers included Morgan and CEO of Accenture North America Jimmy Etheredge.
The HRC Foundation was proud to recognize the 842 businesses that met all the criteria to earn a 100 rating and the designation of being a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality.” Seven companies received further distinction for earning a 100 rating throughout the CEI’s 20 years: American Airlines, Apple Computer Inc., Eastman Kodak Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Nike Inc., Replacements Ltd. and Xerox Corp.
As the HRC Foundation celebrates the 20th anniversary of the CEI, we reflect on the growth that we have seen in workplace equality and inclusion over the last two decades and on the ways that we may continue to advance workplaces. The HRC Foundation is raising the bar in regard to LGBTQ+ workplace equality and inclusion best practices, ensuring that companies and businesses remain diligent about LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace. For example, we are requiring more services and treatment options to achieve minimally inclusive transgender healthcare as well as incentivizing companies to exceed the minimal offerings. We are adding an LGBTQ+ intersectionality training and expanding upon our data collection best practice measures. The criteria will also require that each company has gender transition guidelines and at least one additional policy on gender inclusion in the workplace. The newly updated criteria for next year’s CEI can be found at hrc.org/CEI.
In some ways, the CEI and corporations and businesses have been years ahead of the federal government by implementing comprehensive protections for LGBTQ+ employees, which would also be a reality if the Equality Act would be enshrined into law.
“We hope that the future of the CEI observes the Equality Act as a means of support and protection for all LGBTQ+ employees, not only at their workplaces, but in many other aspects of life,” said Williams. “The CEI has helped frame what comprehensive protections can look like under a governing entity, and we hope that in the near future we can assess how businesses are enforcing the Equality Act.”