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March 20, 2015
Corporations Improving on LGBT Rights
    by Robert Kropp

Evolution in social acceptance of diversity, as well as years of shareowner engagement by Walden Asset Management, leads to many companies adopting sexual orientation and gender identity policies.


One of the first social issues my youngest child became passionate about was lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, joining the Outright Vermont organization in her freshman year of high school. Not only did her involvement demonstrate her admirable sense of justice; it also indicated the degree to which the issue of LGBT rights have become mainstream.

Generally, corporations may lag behind blue state teenagers in their advocacy for sound environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) practices. But thanks in large part to more than a decade of shareowner activism by Walden Asset Management, many corporations have come around on the issue of LGBT rights in the workplace.

Since 2000, Walden has engaged with over 100 companies on LGBT rights in the workplace; in the last three years, the firm has engaged with 35. Thirty-one of the 35 have made the improvements sought by Walden, an astonishing success rate for a shareowner engagement campaign.

“Walden's ultimate goal is for all client portfolio companies to have inclusive non-discrimination policies that are easily accessible to prospective employees,” the firm stated in a recent press release.

According to the 2015 Proxy Voting Guide of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), “Over 84% of Fortune 500 companies have now adopted written nondiscrimination policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as have more than 93% of Fortune 100 companies. Yet, a much smaller percentage – just 34% – currently prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.”

And, a 2013 repo rt by the Williams Institute stated, "As recently as 2010, 78% of respondents to the largest survey of transgender people to date reported having experienced harassment or mistreatment at work...LGBT people continue to face high rates of discrimination in the workplace and that state and federal protections could consequently have a significant and positive impact for LGBT workers without overly burdening employers."

In 2014, President Obama contributed to such protections by issuing an executive order that bans federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers. As a result, even ExxonMobil—which had rebuffed shareowner resolutions addressing the issue for each of the last 18 years—announced in January that its employment policies now prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

"We commend Exxon for joining its many Fortune 500 peers and investors in the 21st Century,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.

Thus far, resolutions filed by Walden during the 2015 proxy season have been withdrawn at Cullen/Frost Bankers, First NBC Bank, and IDEX Corporation.

“It benefits long-term shareholder value when companies ensure a respectful and supportive atmosphere for all employees,” Carly Greenberg of Walden said. “Walden believes inclusive and public EEO policies help companies avoid costly discrimination litigation and reputation damage, all while enabling the company to attract employees from the broadest possible talent pool."

Walden also noted that it has partnered with Pride Foundation, a Seattle-based organization which is the lead filer in nine resolutions this proxy season. Thus far, five of the resolutions have been withdrawn, and withdrawals are expected for two more shortly.

“Given the lack of federal workplace protections for LGBT people, this critical work ensures that everyone has the same opportunity to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families," said Kris Hermanns, Executive Director of Pride Foundation. “A growing number of businesses are at the forefront of advancing equality-using their institutional power to support LGBT employees and help change hearts and minds."

 

 
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