City Life

Local businesses adopt LGBT-friendly policies

Madison businesses welcome gay and lesbian workers

Some workplaces in Madison have developed policies and practices that are welcoming to gay and lesbian employees, but these efforts go unnoticed if they’re not highly visible.
 
That’s according to Steve Starkey, executive director of OutReach, south-central Wisconsin’s center for the LGBT community. He says messaging is important, and suggests that companies use rainbow decals or LGBT literature in lobbies or doorways as ways to show support. “The average person might not think of something like that,” Starkey says. “But it sends a big message to a marginalized community.”
 
Jason Rae, executive director of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, says his organization doesn’t track how many businesses have LGBT-friendly policies in place, but says membership in his chamber “is a great way for businesses to showcase their commitment to diversity and inclusion.” More than 90 businesses in the Madison area are members, says Rae, including Alliant Energy, Dean Health Plan, Summit Credit Union, UnityPoint Health–Meriter, UW Health and American Family Insurance.
 
Jim St. Vincent, vice president of human resources at American Family, says his company is among 517 nationwide (across multiple industries) in 2017 to earn a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s corporate equality index, a benchmarking tool on LGBT policies and practices.
 
Contributing to American Family’s high score was the creation of a group called LGBTA, or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Allies, which is open to all employees. It offers a chance for group members to learn about each other, raise concerns and make suggestions.
 
American Family provides rainbow pride stickers for workers to display as a way to let LGBT co-workers know they are open to holding safe conversations about issues that are important to the LGBT community. The company also includes transgender medical coverage in its insurance plans.
 
“The marketplace is competitive,” Starkey says, so employers need to take extra steps to ensure they are being inclusive.
 
An Affinity for Diversity
 
Jim St. Vincent, vice president of human resources at American Family Insurance, talks about his company’s LGBT-friendly policies.
 
Why is it important to foster a diverse workforce? 
 
It starts from a business standpoint. Why wouldn’t we want to look like our customers? We are serving people of color, women, gays and lesbians. We want to reflect our community. And we want to be innovative. We want the best and the brightest, and that includes hiring people who think differently and have different ideas. From an altruistic viewpoint, it’s the right thing to do.
 
What does it mean to score high on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s corporate equality index?
 
Four years ago we scored 55 percent, and this year and 2016 we scored 100 percent. That turnaround is important to us. It shows we are moving in the right direction. For workers, you spend so much time at work, you want to be able to be yourself; you want to be able to talk about yourself and feel comfortable and safe at work.
 
In what ways does your LGBTA affinity group help open doors to a diverse workforce?
 
One thing we do is bring in speakers. Last year a transgender speaker came in, and a dad opened up about his child who was transitioning. People know they can talk about whatever they want in these discussions. After the Orlando nightclub shooting, we had an employee session, just to get together and talk or offer assistance. It was very dynamic and very powerful.
 
Patti Zarling is a writer based in Green Bay.

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