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NEAL CONAN, host:

The Human Rights Campaign has good news for gay and transgender employees in the workplace. A report released today says that gay and transgender employees are getting more benefits, suffering less discrimination at work. The greatest improvement is in the corporate world with several Fortune 500 companies leading the way. Joe Solmonese is president of Human Rights Campaign and joins us here in Studio 3A today.

Nice to have you on the program.

Mr. JOE SOLMONESE (Human Rights Campaign): Thank you.

CONAN: How do you measure the workplace climate for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered employees?

Mr. SOLMONESE: It's promising and it's improving, and as I have experienced from traveling around the country for the last month in about a dozen states meeting with corporate leaders, I think the bottom line is that it's not just the right thing to do, but as they're finding, it's good for business.

CONAN: And how do you actually measure how well they're doing? By numbers of complaints?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Oh no. We measure on a broad variety of issues and topics. We work with corporations all across the country. We issue a questionnaire to corporations each year and ask them their position on a wide variety of issues, from benefits to the work that they do supporting the community externally to the kind of language they use in their employment policy. A whole range of issues helps us to determine what we call our corporate equality index score.

CONAN: And give us, for example, the score of those Fortune 500 companies up over 80 percent, I read?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Well, there are about 66 companies that currently have a score of 100, 100 percent rating with the Human Rights Campaign.

CONAN: And that's of the Fortune 500?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Yes.

CONAN: And so that's compared to--What?--a couple years ago?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Well, for instance, we have over 8,000 employers now offering domestic partner benefits. That's a 13 percent increase just over the last year. Eighty-two percent of Fortune 500 companies are including sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies. That's a 4 percent increase over last year. And a total of 51 Fortune 500 companies are including gender identity in their non-discrimination policy, which is up 89 percent from 2003.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Now these changes come in the course of a political year which has seen gay marriage issues voted down in, I think, 11 states, as I recall, and this is obviously still a hot-button issue. Why do you think corporations are continuing to move ahead?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Well, it's a good question, and as I said, my experience has been that this political climate has simply strengthened their resolve, and I think it's because as corporations have discovered, the more inclusive and the more welcoming they are, I think a broader and more talented workforce is attracted, and that's good for the bottom line.

CONAN: Is this particularly true--do your records suggest--is this particularly true of companies that are based in more than one state? I mean, for example, you may have--may be interested in one policy if you're based in Alabama, just to pick a state, but if you're also in New York, you may have to change your policies.

Mr. SOLMONESE: I think generally speaking these are policies that transcend the political environment of the state. I mean, I was at Sprint corporation in Kansas about a month ago, and just on the heels of a disappointing loss there on a gay marriage ballot referendum, Sprint issued a press release saying that they stood more strongly than ever behind their GLBT employees, and were as committed as ever to, you know, extending equal benefits there.

CONAN: And they're resistant to characterizations that they might be sort of enacting social policy in the workplace?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Well, as I said, I think that it is more about what's good for business and it is more about fostering an inclusive and creative, diverse environment than it is about a particular social statement.

CONAN: What is it that you think--again, I know you think it's good for business, good for the employees...

Mr. SOLMONESE: Yeah.

CONAN: ...good for everybody, but what do you think is motivating the change?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Well, I think, you know, that as Hewlett-Packard said in The Washington Post this morning, not only is it good for business, but it gives corporations a competitive edge in terms of attracting talent. And so, you know, I genuinely believe that that's really what it comes down to, that the competitive edge and that a corporation can put out in terms of the kinds of people it can attract, you know, and the kind of environment that it's going to foster, and, you know, having been to these places, having been to Ford Motor Company and met with the corporate executives at Ford and talked about the kind of inclusive environment that they're trying to create on the plant floor, I think they genuinely believe that it is not only the right thing to do, but it fosters the kind of environment that they want to--you know, that they want to see in their corporations.

CONAN: Obviously there are a lot of corporations and other businesses that do not yet have 100 percent score. When you go to talk to them, what do they say as to their reasons why they do not?

Mr. SOLMONESE: I think there's a broad range of issues as to, you know, where--why people are where they are on the spectrum in terms of extending benefits. It could be anything from, you know, predisposition by the corporate leadership not to be able to see, I think, the goodness that can come in terms of extending benefits around...

CONAN: They disagree with you, in other words.

Mr. SOLMONESE: Either that, or it may be, for instance, that the GLBT employees have not had the opportunity to organize and speak with one another and figure out ways to sort of work with the corporate leadership to get them to come along. And one of the things that we've seen in corporations all across the country is that as GLBT employees are able to come together and work together and talk about, you know, strategies to help work with corporate leadership, that we see, you know, changes begin to occur at the top.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So otherwise, a corporate officer could say, `Well, we don't have any,' or `this isn't a big problem here' or `we don't need it.'

Mr. SOLMONESE: You know, that could be the way the conversation starts, absolutely.

CONAN: Yeah. I wonder, also, in cases...

Mr. SOLMONESE: Not unlike a congressman saying to--as they often do, `I have no gay people who live in my district.'

CONAN: I wonder, also, are there cases in which some sort of incident of discrimination has sparked a reconsideration of policy?

Mr. SOLMONESE: Could be, sure. I mean, you know, there are all sorts of things, I think, that bring this conversation to light. It could be, you know, a transgendered employee, you know, having a conversation with his or her supervisor about the need for a particular extension of benefits that hadn't even been something that had been thought about before. So it could be, you know, something--as you mention. It could be, you know, a particular issue. It could be just something not having been brought to the attention of the leadership before.

CONAN: Joe Solmonese, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. SOLMONESE: Thank you.

CONAN: We appreciate your time.

Joe Solmonese is president of the Human Rights Campaign, and he joined us today in Studio 3A.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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