July 27, 2007

"'Trans'-forming Corporate America

In another example of business stepping far ahead of legislators in the acceptance of LGBT people, Fortune magazine posted an article about the T; how companies are becoming more progressive in handling employment situations with transgender people.

A 2007 "State of the Workplace" report just published by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) says that 125 of the Fortune 500 companies now specifically prohibit job discrimination against transgender employees. Five years ago, only 15 of the Fortune 500 promised to protect transgender people from on-the-job bias.

Just in the last 18 months, defense contractors Honeywell, Boeing (Charts, Fortune 500) and Northrop Grumman (Charts, Fortune 500), automakers Ford and General Motors (Charts, Fortune 500), hotel firms Hilton (Charts, Fortune 500), Starwood and Marriott (Charts, Fortune 500) and Internet giants Yahoo and Google (Charts, Fortune 500) have added protections for transgender workers. About 70 big companies offer comprehensive medical coverage for transgender employees, including those in transition, according to the HRC.

Why the change?

"This is a direct result of the organizing that employees have done on the issue of sexual orientation," says Daryl Herrschaft, who oversees the HRC's workplace project. As gay and lesbian employees form internal networking and lobbying groups, they have been able to persuade their employers to protect transgender rights as well.

Broader social forces are also at work. Movies like "Boys Don't Cry" (1999) and "Transmerica" (2005) exposed transgender characters to audiences. Last spring, Newsweek published a cover story called "The Mystery of Gender," and an L.A. Times sportswriter named Mike Penner told his readers that he would take a vacation and return as a woman, Christine Daniels.

I've written this before regarding corporations establishing policies aimed at preventing discrimination toward gay and lesbian employees, but the point is worth repeating: as a rule businesses are not going to take measures that are not in their best interest.

My experience has taught me that good employees are hard to find, so it is worth maintaining positive relationships with them, even if they used to wear a coat and tie and now wear a dress. More and more companies are seeing the value of doing just that.

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