Get a Job-And Keep It! Gay-Friendly Employment Policies and Protections Are of Little Solace If Your Company Goes Belly-Up. So It's with Today's Tumultuous Economy in Mind That This Year's Profile of the Country's Most Pro-Gay Companies Focuses on the Businesses with the Best Staying Power. Whether Your Employer Is One of the Picks or Not, It Never Hurts to Check out Your Options

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EIGHT YEARS AGO JAMES WAS AN ASPIRING WRITER fresh out of graduate school and hoped to secure a college teaching job. "But I didn't have a publishable book in me, which you need to secure a college-level position," he explains, adding that he'd just learned that he was HIV-positive and was desperate to find employment and health insurance. So rather than waiting for his dream position, he took one of the first offers to come his way: in public relations at a large Chicago law firm.

Since joining the company, James has really gotten to know the PR business, which makes him valuable to his bosses. He's also survived multiple rounds of layoffs, and last year he was rewarded with a substantial raise for moving. Still, he's aware that his company's not on the best financial footing; accounts have been lost and jobs have been cut. As a result, James is worried about his future at the firm.

"The main thing that keeps me just doing what I'm doing is all that uncertainty that has always been there," he says. "What kind of job do I want? What about my health? And what about this economy?"

For James and people like him, today's job market is something of a puzzle--one that's not particularly easy to figure out. Through the first half of the year the economy basically operated at breakeven, neither contracting nor exhibiting signs of buoyancy. So far, job losses have been held in check. But dig deeper and the news seems pretty grim. Major industries--including banking, housing, autos, and insurance--are in crisis mode, and many large employers appear to have lost their bearings. Some household names are even disappearing--very shortly Bear Stearns and Tower Records will sound as quaint to our ears as American Motors and Pan Am.

Against this backdrop, the traditional trade-offs considered by the gay or lesbian job seeker take on a new sense of urgency: Would you rather work for a progressive employer or one with deep pockets? How important is it for you to know and hang out with other gay people at work? Would you contemplate relocating to a city or a state where your sexual orientation was less accepted?

We considered these questions and more when looking at the latest Corporate Equality Index, published by the Human Rights Campaign in September. The good news? A record number of employers--259, to be exact--have earned a perfect score of 100, which means they meet all of HRC's criteria, including offering domestic-partner benefits; having non-discrimination policies that cover sexual+ orientation and gender identity; and supporting LGBT employee groups.

And now for the bad news: Many of the firms to earn the HRC's imprimatur have in recent months seen key executives depart (Yahoo!), recorded a loss (Continental Airlines), sold off valuable assets to raise much-needed cash (Lehman Brothers), or all of the above (Merrill Lynch).

Given that some of the most reliably gay-friendly employers aren't in the best financial shape in this turbulent economic time, The Advocate spoke to a panel of recruiters, experts on employment trends, and authorities on gay rights in the workplace to get a sense of what you should consider if, like James, you suddenly find yourself dusting off your resume. Their advice:

Pay attention to the top dog. In tough economic times you want your company to be run by a person whose pride--not to mention net worth--is completely on the line. Entrepreneurs can be a difficult breed to work for: full of unchecked energy, demanding, driven to constantly expand, and often unaware of their own worst habits. Even so, their understanding of and passion for a business is nearly impossible to duplicate, and their zeal tends to translate into a tangible financial return. Over the long term, companies that are still run by the person who founded them perform better than companies that have made the transition to professional management, according to a study of 2,300 businesses conducted at Ohio State University. …