Are Multinational Corporations Caring More About Their LGBT Employees Around the World?

With a record number of global-themed workshops, this year’s out and equal summit marked rising concern for corporate America’s attention to equality in the workplace abroad. Fourteen sessions—ranging from corporate equality in Hong Kong, India, and London to helping employee resource group leaders extend their memberships globally—became known as the “international track” at this year’s Summit. Some of this growing attention to global issues may be simply the fact that so many employee resource groups have accomplished their main task of securing equal benefits in the workplace here in the United States, and are looking for a new issue to tackle. But others at the Summit seemed to believe that corporations are preparing for the upturn in the economy and redoubling their efforts to retain and recruit the best talent. The talent argument is the number one business case for equal workplaces for LGBT people here and abroad.

The Council for Global Equality facilitated one information-rich workshop on expanding equality in the global workplace, which can be viewed here. The most recent global equality findings from the Human Right Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) were analyzed at this session. Although not part of how HRC currently scores corporations, the annual CEI collects information from over 600 American corporations about their policies and practices in overseas operations. Of the U.S.-based multinational corporations, only 54% currently extend their benefits to same-sex partners in all locations around the world. And only 52% have both sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies globally. Clearly, our collective work is not done.

Many of the questions that were raised in the “international track” were from employees in search of policy examples and best practical stories from other companies (often their own competitors) about how to overcome the challenges of becoming fully equal workplaces. For example, a company seeking to extend their “global” equality provisions to the real practice of equal benefits provision might need to convince a third-party insurance provider in a foreign country to cover same-sex partners.

Stephen Golden from Goldman Sachs gave a wonderful example of that company leaning hard on insurance providers in Japan to extend their health coverage to same-sex partners, which had a trickle-out effect on the entire financial services industry. The acts of one courageous company can truly impact LGBT employees in an entire sector or country. Other stories were more sobering, such as a lesbian employee of a major energy-sector company arriving in China to relocate with her partner, only to have the same-sex partner turned away at the border by Chinese immigration authorities.

While there are still many unmet challenges on the road to improve the workplaces for LGBT employees globally, the tone of this year’s Summit was optimistic and dynamic. The trend is clearly heading towards safer and more equal working environments for all employees everywhere. And with the increasing and combined efforts of employee group leadership, diversity and human resource management, Senior Executives and CEOs, as well as outside advocates and watchdog groups, we can help ensure that Corporate America stands for equality and fairness for LGBT people abroad.

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