ExxonMobil Turns Back on Gay Community
The battle for LGBT workplace equality rages on as politicians and activists ban together to convince the stragglers of "big business" to join the 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies already offering employment discrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation. ExxonMobil will not be one of those companies.
Mobil did offer both domestic partner health benefits and sexual orientation discrimination protection prior to its acquisition by Exxon in 1999, but interestingly enough neither benefit survived the merger. As a token, ExxonMobil grandfathered in the health benefits for domestic partners while denying the same benefits to new employees.
This disparate treatment is reflected in the negative score ExxonMobil received on The Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate (HRC) Equality Index (CEI). The CEI is -- at its core -- a measure of the workplace policies and practices of an organization. It assesses employment policies, benefits and practices and does not purport to assess a corporation in its entirety. Instead, it focuses on analyzing and rating large U.S. employer’s policies and practices that are pertinent to LGBT employees.
In addition, all consumer oriented businesses rated in the CEI are included in the annual Workplace Equality Guide, available on the HRC website and even downloadable as an application for both the iPad and iPhone. With ease, an LGBT consumer can access information to determine where to shop, what airlines to fly and what car to drive.
The CEI report is largely reliant on companies’ self-reporting about workplace policies and practices. But the final criterion allows points to be deducted from a company’s rating in the event of a significant official anti-LGBT blemish on the company’s recent record. Some actions that will lower a company CEI rating include having financial relationships with anti-LGBT advocacy organizations; rolling back LGBT employee protections and benefits; court cases and legal proceedings involving LGBT discrimination; and opposing shareholder resolutions to advance LGBT equality.
It’s not surprising then that ExxonMobil only scored a -25 on the HRC’s Index, while the lowest score from companies Shell, Spectra and BP was an 85. This group of companies -- of which ExxonMobil is not a member -- is a part of corporate America’s "rainbow revolution," as dubbed by "The Dallas Morning News." Three of the 88 perfect scores were Texas companies, while other Texas companies scored well above 80. This simply means that ExxonMobil cannot hide behind any stereotype of a close-minded Texas when oil competitors like BP, Chevron and Texaco already have non-discrimination policies in place.
Since ExxonMobil was the only Fortune 500 company to get a negative score, it’s an appropriate company against which to focus activist firepower. Mobil’s roots as a pioneer in LGBT rights prior to the merger also make ExxonMobil a prime target. Recently, Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work -- a national organization working to ban workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans -- announced the launch of a new campaign and petition geared towards correcting ExxonMobil’s discriminatory policies against LGBT employees.
Almeida noted that ExxonMobil receives millions of dollars in government contracts each year, pointing out that the gay and transgender tax payers are funding a company that refuses to offer them discrimination protection in the workplace. He also reported that many elected officials in the Senate and the House of Representatives are teaming up with LGBT community leaders to urge President Barack Obama to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors like ExxonMobil to adopt LGBT nondiscrimination policies. If they are going to continue to be funded through taxpayer money, they should at least protect the taxpayer’s job.
NY Comptroller Sponsors Inclusive Resolution; ExxonMobil Blocks It
While some lawmakers and activists put the pressure on through a top-down approach, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is working from the ground up. DiNapoli recently sponsored a resolution that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to ExxonMobil’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy. While ExxonMobil was unsuccessful in blocking DiNapoli’s presentation of the resolution at a shareholder’s meeting, the resolution did not pass on a vote.
Although DiNapoli’s resolution did not make it through this time, his office has previously been successful in using its $150 billion state pension fund’s stock portfolio to influence big corporations to agree to new nondiscrimination policies. Currently, New York State’s Pension Fund holds 16.2 million shares of ExxonMobil stock, valued at 1.3 billion dollars. Such a large investment suggests that ExxonMobil should have given more consideration to DiNapoli’s resolution. But this was not the case.
This is not the first time that the New York City Employees Retirement System has gotten similarly involved by levying its pension power in the fight for equality. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. once made headlines for delivering pink slips justified only by stating "[t]he employee is gay" and that they had failed to comply with a policy requiring employees to display "[n]ormal heterosexual values which have been the foundation of families in our society which the company has traditionally sought to uphold."
With the help of a majority shareholder, The New York City Employees Retirement System, Cracker Barrel changed its tune. To date, Cracker Barrel has implemented a non-discrimination policy and diversity training which includes sexual orientation and has even gone as far as to provide a cash grant to the Tennessee Equality Project.
It seems that Cracker Barrel grasped much earlier what ExxonMobil has failed to understand in light of its recent decision -- it behooves any company to adopt LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies. It is widely known that LGBT consumers are highly swayed by the social stance of corporations and companies where they spend their money.
Specifically, LGBT consumers are 75 percent more likely to consider brands that support causes that are important to them politically. This shows a substantial increase from January 2007 when 62 percent reported the same. Their consumer behavior has a direct correlation with their social and political opinion of a company or corporation and they have the power to hit a corporation’s wallet and ego -- right where it hurts the most.
Looking at the big picture, the failure of the ExxonMobil shareholders to adopt DiNapoli’s resolution is only a speed bump on the road to equality, while it may prove more costly for the company down the line when consumers with more progressive ideologies generate negative buzz. Whether commanded by an executive order, or over-ruled by a thumbs-up from management, ExxonMobil will eventually be forced to fall in with the rest of big business.
The HRC Corporate Equality Index has already shown that the tide is turning, publicizing what would otherwise be kept in the closet and ultimately affecting the evaluated companies’ abilities to draw job candidates and maintain a positive image. While change will not happen overnight, it is certain to happen in the relative future. The "rainbow revolution" is only gaining momentum.