Primers

Why Big Corporations Should Give Their Gays Benefits

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With companies like Exxon Mobil stripping away obligations to and protections for gay employees (and year after year, refusing to reinstate them), perhaps it’s time for a primer on why corporations should offer benefits to GLBTs and protect them with non-discrimination policies. And given Exxon Mobil sits at the bottom of Queerty‘s list of “10 Companies That Hate the Gays,” perhaps they should be the first to take notice.

The notion of offering gay employees the same benefits — like health care for partners and surviving pension plans — as heteros began in 1982, when New York City’s Village Voice newspaper became what’s believed to be the first company to extend benefits to domestic partners of its staff. Since then, major firms including Kaiser Permanente, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Oracle, Cisco, General Mills, and Home Depot have joined the fray; Levi-Strauss became the first Fortune 500 company to offer benefits. (Then there’s a whole other class of employers, like the University of Iowa, which offers benefits.)

And yet some market shakers, like Exxon, continue to look the other way. Is it because of the flawed economics that folks like GOP Chairman Michael Steele point to?

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Often, yes. All of that added cost that comes with paying more insurance benefits isn’t worth the burden to implement equality, they claim. Except that’s not true. As DiversityInc.com notes: “A 2005 Hewitt Associates study of large U.S. employers found that 88 percent of the respondents that introduced same-sex domestic-partner benefits experienced a financial impact of 2 percent or less. What’s more, only 5 percent of the companies surveyed experienced a financial impact of more than 3 percent. The payoff of such programs clearly outweighs the costs. These companies report lower attrition rates and reduced turnover costs and are able to recruit from a greater pool of candidates. Employers that understand the financial burdens of LGBT people also understand the financial burdens of all employees–and offer group benefits to retain them.”

Indeed, all those costs about recruiting, training, and retaining talented gay employees never seems to factor in to the minds of execs who worry more about what an Excel spreadsheet shows them in additional insurance costs. (Not so surprisingly, the U.S. military also — stupidly — thinks this way.)

And then there’s the ethical argument, which goes like this: Companies should offer same-sex benefits because it’s simply the right thing to do. Some firms shoot this down because of their morals, like Rockstar Energy, a company run by bigot Michael Savage’s son Russell Weiner. (NB: Check out this funny-slash-disturbing legal threat from Rockstar against anyone who criticizes them.)

But as firms who treat gay employees as equals, the payoffs are clear. “We have a long-standing commitment to fostering a workplace environment of inclusiveness,” said Liz Christopher, the spokeswoman for Nationwide Insurance, a company based in Iowa that already offered gay employees domestic partnership benefits before the Iowa Supreme Court all but mandated it. “It also affects associate performance. If you’re worried about your loved one’s health care, then you’re probably not focused on your job.”

Look at that: Morality can be good for efficiency.

We’re well aware that companies are not charities. They are in the business of generating profits and pleasing shareholders. But even if we ignore a company’s ethical obligation to the people who make it run — and the consumers and clients it serves that, undoubtedly, include GLBTs — and stick only to the financials, it may actually cost some companies more to endorse discrimination than abolish it.