The State of Our Workplaces

Marty Fox assesses the best and worst workplaces and shares the results of the OPEN Workplace Survey.

The Worst Workplace

As I write this, the Senate of the United States voted down a bill that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). For this reason, I would currently give the award for the worst workplace in our community to the Armed Services of the United States. Wisconsin has had a law on the books since 1987 that would prohibit firing someone because of their sexual orientation, and yet that is just what the Federal government has been doing since 1993. This policy harms individual soldiers, undermines unit cohesion, and jeopardizes families who are making enormous sacrifices on behalf of the country. The waste of educating and training soldiers only to spend more money just to send them packing is an abomination.

I cannot begin to express my outrage that felons are welcomed openly, but gays and lesbians are forced to choose between telling the truth and serving their country.

I hope with all my heart that by the time you read this, the discharges will have stopped and this policy will be on its way to extinction.

Let’s turn now to workplaces that are held up as examples of ideal places of employment for LGBTQ people.

Surveying the Corporate Landscape

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has been measuring workplace inclusion since 2002. The 2010 results released in September of 2009 were impressive, as 305 companies reached the coveted score of 100. Less than a year later, one of these companies disappointed the LGBTQ community by providing substantial funding for an anti-gay candidate in a Minnesota election and another was involved in the worst oil spill in history.

Questions remain about how to measure and rate workplace climates and corporate responsibility. Ultimately, how do we choose where to work and where to buy? How fluid do the metrics need to be? Is there an implied loyalty to the LGBTQ community? Do we incorporate a measure of overall ethics and responsibility? How do we fairly weigh the corporate performances of Target or BP? How do we as individuals and as a community understand our relationship to these corporations?

We cannot continue to study corporate diversity initiatives in a vacuum. We need to assess overall citizenship of which LGBTQ diversity is a part. What other organizations can we partner with to get a broader view? How do we respond to an ever-changing political system where corporations are now playing a bigger role?

This year’s HRC Corporate Equality Index shows an unprecedented 337 major U.S. businesses earned the top rating of 100 percent, up from 305 last year. However, Target Corp. and Best Buy Co., Inc. received deductions in their scores. The Index showed no change for Wisconsin companies. For the complete report, go to HRC.org/cei2011/index.html.

And what about Madison area workplaces? How do they rank?

The OPEN Workplace Survey

The Out Professional and Executive Network (OPEN) surveyed more than 200 LGBTQ individuals in the greater Madison area to collect information on how we feel about our workplaces. This is our very first survey, designed not to measure corporate policies, but the LGBTQ experiences in the workplace.

Demographics: Just less than half of the respondents were male, just less than half were female, and almost two percent were transgender. Just over half have been involved in the OPEN organization. Most respondents live and work in the greater Madison area.

About 35% of us work for organizations that have more than 1000 employees. Another 20% of us work for organizations with fewer than 20 people. We are owners and executives, managers, supervisors, individual contributors, and students.

Results: Most respondents (84%) are either completely out or out to most individuals. More than half of the respondents included the name of their employer.

A number of people responded to the question, “Please share an instance where words or actions have made you feel welcomed or included at work.” Here is a sampling:

  • “ … virtually all employees know that I am gay. It’s a nozn-issue here. Like being a Lutheran.”
  • “It’s actually the first place I’ve ever worked where I feel comfortable sharing and being who I really am.”
  • “It’s no big deal.”
  • “I talk about my relationshipas anyone else does. I’m lucky.”

Indeed, there are some fabulous workplaces in our community. Places where all employees are treated equally and with respect. But there are also sadder stories lurking just beneath the surface of the OPEN survey.

Someday …

  • LGBTQ individuals will not have to feel “lucky” when they are treated well.
  • 20% of respondents will not have witnessed or experienced bullying in the workplace.
  • We will not see 23.5% of respondents who suspect that being out at work might havea negative impact on their job security.

Most importantly, someday no employee in this community will fear for their safety because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender expression as 13 respondents reported.

We are lucky to live in this funky, fabulous community where creativity is worn proudly right along with red and white, green and gold. But we can do more to make our workplaces as attractive as the rest of our landscape. We can become the example of how to open doors and build a creative class that drives economic success. Sometimes we don’t know how to step forward and ask for what we need. It is terribly hard to do this as an individual employee, but quite possible to do this as part of an ERG or an organization like OPEN. Let’s move forward together.

Send your comments and questions to Marty Fox at mfox@ourlivesmadison.com.