Donna Rose

Outside the Comfort Zone: Corporate Courage on Social Causes

Filed By Donna Rose | September 30, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: American Airlines, constitutional amendment, corporate activism, ENDA, Google, marriage equality, Prop 8, Prop. 8, trans inclusion

Corporate support for political legislation on social causes is nothing new. In fact, it's probably as old as politics itself. However, it's often a tricky proposition. Generally speaking, companies are hesitant to get actively involved in the political machinery of social causes unless the legislation being proposed directly affects them. And, even then, many are reluctant to speak up.

That's what makes two recent statements of support for GLBT political efforts remarkable. Neither was caused by pressure. Both make bold statements of support for controversial LGBT causes. And, both set high standards for others to follow.

The main reason that corporations are reluctant to get involved in social issues is that they are in business to make money and they don't want to offend either their customers or their employees by straying too far outside of that core mission. It's safer to sit on their hands than to get involved. This conundrum was well articulated by Google Co-founder and President Sergey Brin on Google's blog last week:

"Because our company has a great diversity of people and opinions -- Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, all religions and no religion, straight and gay -- we do not generally take a position on issues outside of our field, especially not social issues.

This trepidation is widespread so getting corporations to actively support social issues is a difficult, uphill fight. And, once gained, it is not always maintained.

The memory of Microsoft's debacle on HB1515 in 2005 is still fresh for many of us. The bill would have extended discrimination protections in Washington State to cover sexual orientation and Microsoft had long publicly supported it. Shortly before the vote, and after a meeting with evangelical pastor Ken Hutchinson who threatened a nationwide boycott they dropped their support for the bill. It caused a firestorm.

After much discussion, arm twisting, and internal and external pressure Microsoft re-changed it's mind again, supporting the bill. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, sent an email to all employees explaining their position:

"I've concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda."

When I served on HRC's Business Council we spent the better part of two years actively building a coalition of corporate support for ENDA. Companies told us unofficially that they supported the legislation, and in fact implemented those same provisions in their own workplaces. But when it came to active political support, and adding their names to the coalition, it crossed a line that they were not willing to cross.

That's what makes Google's statement from last week on Proposition 8 all the more remarkable, both in its bold content and in its rationale:

...it is the chilling and discriminatory effect of the proposition on many of our employees that brings Google to publicly oppose Proposition 8. While we respect the strongly-held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 -- we should not eliminate anyone's fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love.

Wow. In all my years of activism I've never seen anything quite like that. It shows courage, leadership, vision, and is a model for other companies who feel similarly to follow. There is no mistaking the message. It is clear and to the point. And, it translates this issue into the broader concept of "equality" that is fundamentally at play here - something that the corporation is anxious to fully support.

American Airlines took a bold step on another piece of controversial legislation when they sent a letter to Congress this weekpublicly stating their support for a fully-inclusive ENDA that reflects their own corporate values.

American Airlines has long been recognized as a leader of LGBT workplace equality. They put their money where their mouth is and support LGBT events and causes. Their corporate Employee Resource Group, GLEAM, is well respected in GLBT corporate diversity circles. The have people who's specific job is to do outreach and sales specifically to the LGBT community, and their corporate supplier diversity program specifically seeks to engage LGBT-owned businesses. In terms of transgender policy, they were one of the first companies to establish corporate gender transition guidelines, and they proudly shared them on the internet. They are one of only 11 companies to achieve a perfect rating of 100 for all 7 years of the HRC Corporate Equality Index. All told, their history of broad support is unblemished and this letter continues that leadership:

"We are) proud to express our strong support of federal workplace non-discrimination legislation that would extend basic job protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. We are proud to have been the first major airline to implement same-sex domestic partner benefits, first to implement both sexual orientation and gender identity in our workplace non-discrimination policies, and first to have a recognized LGBT employee resource group - GLEAM.

Our endorsement of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is consistent with our longstanding Statement of Equal Opportunity ... The principles fostered by ENDA are consistent with our corporate principles in treating all employees with fairness and respect. On behalf of our more than 80,000 employees, we appreciate your consideration and encourage Congress to enact this important legislation.

The more that this happens, the bigger impact it can and will have. Corporations can speak in a loud voice if and when they choose to use it. They often have active lobbying efforts. They provide a significant amount of employment, tax base, and money to the places where they live. They've got a significant amount of clout that can't be underestimated.

It's refreshing to see this kind of corporate courage. We can only hope that other corporations will see the connection between their workplaces and broader Equality as clearly as Google and American Airlines have articulated here. That, indeed, would be the next frontier of corporate support for full Equality for all.


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Angela Brightfeather | September 30, 2008 12:59 PM

Donna,

Great progress at the corporate level as you have indicated in your post, should always be met with great enthusiasm from the GLBT Community and recognition by means of actual patronage of those businesses who support equality.

While recognizing those efforts as outstanding, the statement by American Arilines does not note that they speicifically support an inclusive version of ENDA.

This indicates to me, that either they are not aware of the situation they are endorsing and the most recent legislation that is exclusive, or they are inclusive but they are taking the same postion as HRC by not recognizing the major flaw of an exclusive ENDA and seeking to correct it.

As a community that has been and still may face exclusion from ENDA, how do we get the message to AA and other corporations that they need to be more specific in their support right now in order to send the correct message needed to DC?

I find the American Airlines statement to be supportive, encouraging and affirmative, but still lacking the in the actual detail needed, as much as I find HRC's statments about supporting and ENDA lacking.

Angela: I must respectfully disagree with your assessment that the American Airlines statement is somehow deficient or does not support an inclusive ENDA. The beginning of the statement includes ALL the segments of the broader community - not just some of it. And, they refer to their long history of support for the entire community in their letter as the basis for their support. So, although it's doesn't technically include the word "inclusive" - everything they use to support why they're doing this in the first place is totally inclusive.

I worry that we start from a "guilty until proven innocent" perspective when it comes to these kinds of letters of support with regards to ENDA. We've been bitten so many times we find ourselves looking for the loopholes and the ambiguities out of concern that others will use them to wriggle out of their commitments later (like the-organization-that-shall-not-be-named) - whether they're there or not. At some point we need to look deeper than the words to what the company has done and what they really mean. When ENDA comes around again actions will speak louder than words and, thus far, their actions have been those of leadership and inclusivness.

I, too, would have preferred to see the word "inclusive" in the note. If it were coming from an organization with a lesser record for support I might be inclined to feel differently. However, in this case, I thank American Airlines for their support and for writing this letter.

Angela Brightfeather | September 30, 2008 5:14 PM

Donna,

I also thank American Airlines, and I will continue to use them, and hope that Congress can read between the lines and understand their fine support and leadership enough, to note that GLBT means exactly that. Next year when Congressman Frank comes up with another round of his "lets throw the Transgender people under the bus", I hope he remembers this letter.

What we see in their supportive letter seems to be lost in the translation when Congressman Frank reads it. I only wish that we had HR people from American Arilines assisting in the composition of the next ENDA bill.

As Frank said during the ENDA hearings, "all these people want to do, is to be able to work like everyone else."

Donna it is great to see corporations not only acting in supportive ways but proactively as well.I wish more corporations would send letters to congress in support of an inclusive enda.So thank you Donna for posting this and to Google and American Airlines for their support.

Gee, it makes me glad that I flew on American Airlines when I went to Montreal for GRS in 2007!

It is a brave stand that Google is taking, in coming out in opposition to Proposition 8. What with the resurgent religious right who views the LGBT community as enemy #1 to it's mythical "Family Values", Google is making a statement that too many in corporate America would not have the balls to make. Hopefully what ever boycott the religio-facists try and set up backfires on them.

I mean how are the preachers going to find new porn without it?

Google's statement is powerful and needed. They are known to be a "liberal" company and I'm glad to see them step up to the plate and make a public statement. Now if they'd only put their money where their mouth is!

I also agree with you on American Airlines. Sometimes releases are worded "badly" or not as completely as others would hope. That doesn't make them "the enemy" or non-supportive. It just means someone wrote a release that doesn't make everyone happy. What's that old expression about making everyone happy all of the time?

Donna, as always -- beautifully expressed.

And forgive me for coming late to the dialogue, but wanted to update the community about American Airline's message. I have worked with American's management and LGBT leadership for nearly 15 years. By endorsing ENDA, their letter actually spelled out inclusion of transgender people too, so there will be no confusion.

And to be even more clear, here's the emphasis for good measure.

"Make no mistake, American Airlines supports a fully inclusive ENDA consistent with our own employment practices and policies of inclusion. We did not intend to signal any other position in either our timing or our message. Our Congressional letter specifically includes transgender employees, and we stand by it.

By joining the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness, that is the message we bring with the coalition's other corporate members."

Michael Wascom
Government Affairs, American Airlines
Washington DC

Interesting observations Mr. Witek and Ms. Rose, however don't you think that it would be fair in such a journalistic setting that the public should receive the ENTIRE story about what occurs at above said airline. Mr. Witek, certainly you will share with everyone about the transgender employee of 21 years with this airline who was discriminated against by both the company GLBT employee resource group and who was refused in being hired for 60 internal positions, yet Ms. Rose appeared to have used this employee for information so that she could get the company to "sponsor" a "Transgender Career Expo" in Atlanta last September recruiting new transgender employees while discriminating against this employee because she didn't agree with the airline's GLBT sales and marketing teams' political agenda. Tell everyone Ms. Rose about the lecture you hosted in Dallas a year ago where the same company sales and marketing team in conjunction with you and HRC was suspected of slandering this same employee so that her story of discrimination was covered up "AT ALL COST" to protect the political and corporate sales relationship that you and your political cronies had with them. And by the way, what a coincidence, The GLBT sales person from the airline used to / currently sits on the board with you for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and isn't HRC, the very organization that you used to be involved with, just happen to be "Platinum Sponsors" of this airline ??? Lastly, in regards to the Corporate Equality index, Mr. Witek please consult the 1/26/2007 GLEAM Meeting Minutes and Mr. O'Keefe and you will clearly see that the airline obtains the CEI index ONE YEAR before the index comes out. So is there any wonder why they don't always receive 100% on the index. Sorry folks but you are being fed untrue and biased political propaganda from airline "protectionists". The above information is documented, legally sound and credible and is being covered-up by this author. Signed, a former transgender employee of 21 years with the airline forced to resign due to discrimination and slander with the aid of protectionist trans activists. Thank you for your time this morning.

Bonni: Part of the problem with being trans is that it becomes easy to blame every single thing that happens or doesn't happen in your life on others or on your "situation". In this case, when it comes to the root of your issues with AA the place to look is in the mirror. Your problems with them in no way change the company's long-standing and ongoing leadership and support.

Ms. Rose, rather than retaliating against someone for exposing the above story by way of unfounded psychoanalytical diagnoses, why don't you comment on the facts presented above ??? Very unprofessional response to say the least as well as violating internet privacy by speculation of identity.

In addendum to my previous comment and to add documented support to the comment I will pose the following questions to this author: Ms. Rose, did you not on two occasions "caution" this same transgender airline employee in emails sent 6/22/07 and 7/16/07 respectively ???

To quote you directly:

6/22/2007

"Pragmatism is important in that there's a delicacy in saying things sometimes that is far more effective than being blunt. I'm not sure what exactly is brewing but I would remind you of that, and would caution you on any number of fronts. AA has quite a few transpeople - many of whom do not share your perspective on the support they receive both from the company or from GLEAM. Going to battle by yourself will eventually prove to be a losing proposition"


7/16/2007

".................be careful if you have any interest at all in staying at AA."

And the final quote from you in this same 7/16/2007 e-mail to her:


"AA is doing some wonderful things to support SCC"

Certainly Ms. Rose, SCC is the organization in which you were on the board for and isn't it true that it is the same organization where you were in charge of organizing the "Transgender Career Expo" in Atlanta where the SCC conference was held ??? And isn't this career expo the same one which was depicted in the comments above that led to discrimination of that trans airline employee ??? I'll let the facts speak for themselves. Again, thank you for your time and for the truth to be told here.

Bonni: I have nothing more to say to you. I'll let your ranting speak for itself. I will, however, reiterate my support for organizations that have a long history of support and leadership for the broader LGBT community. Whether you like it or not, American Airlines is one of those companies and their recent letter to Congress on ENDA simply continues that legacy.