Putting Their Best Foot Forward: Led by Starbucks, a Group of Nearly 20 Major Corporations Aims to Turn Equality into an Industrywide Standard

Article excerpt

In 2006, for the first time ever, a majority of Fortune 500 companies offered domestic-partner benefits to their employees--and according to the national gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, 86% explicitly included sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policy, also a record high. As evidence of how far corporate America has come with LGBT rights in the last few years--in 2000, only about 25% of the Fortune 500 offered domestic-partner partner benefits, for instance--the statistics were heartening. Now a group of those companies, led by Starbucks, are helping workplace equality evolve by developing a set of corporate guidelines concerning LGBT employees' treatment.

At a meeting held February 15 in a conference room at the coffee giant's headquarters in Seattle, representatives from the LGBT employee groups of nearly 20 major corporations--Amazon.com, Boeing, Microsoft, and Wells Fargo, to name a few--gathered to exchange ideas, network, and socialize. Also on the agenda: discussion about developing the first list of "best practices" that could be used across the business world to make sure that LGBT employees are treated appropriately and equally. Much progress has been made for this mission, but the various company policies have not yet been codified into one industrywide standard.

Starbucks sees itself as a leader in this best practices effort, not to mention LGBT issues in general. "We have executive support at all levels to push policy," says Andy Fouche, Starbucks's corporate responsibility spokesman. Indeed, the company's senior vice president for finance, Matt Sikes, is out and is the executive sponsor of the company's LGBT group--a role in which he facilitates communication between employees and senior management on a range of issues, including corporate policy, event sponsorship, and even transgender employee rights.

Sikes says that he hopes to be "a positive role model to the LGBT community as an outwardly gay man who has been promoted internally to a senior executive position," adding, "There aren't a lot of those out there in corporate America today. …