Exxon takes Pride parade turn in slow march to gay rights

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Exxon Mobil resisted LGBT workplace policies for years, but changes decades in the making show why a rainbow employee contingent in Houston’s Pride parade is a big deal for the Texas-based energy giant.

More than 125 Exxon Mobil employees took to the streets with thousands of their gay compatriots in Houston's June 27 Pride parade (photos). Their first-time participation in the event may have been as much a sea-change as the national marriage equality ruling the previous day, according to the New York Times.

After Exxon acquired Mobil in 1999, Exxon rescinded Mobil’s policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and ended its policy of providing benefits to same-sex partners. Many gay and lesbian drivers have boycotted Exxon service stations ever since.

For years, Exxon has been a target for change as the third largest company in the world and the last of the Fortune 10 to address gay issues. Shareholders have rejected multiple referendums to amend policies to protect gay employees from job discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as provide health benefits to partners of gay employees.

That’s not all. Exxon also repeatedly flops hard on corporate love for its gays in HRC’s Corporate Equality index, harder than any other company ranked. It’s the only company with a negative score on the annual look at corporate policies in 2014.

That was then. As of this year, not only are employees sporting a sea of company-sponsored rainbow shirts at Pride, gay employees and their spouses are officially protected from discrimination. 


Forward momentum

However slowly, change is coming. Exxon is even sponsoring a national workplace summit on the issue as well, the Times reports.

In October, the company will for the first time be an official sponsor of the Out and Equal Workplace Summit, a conference dedicated to “workplace equality inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.” Last year, it recruited new employees at the Reaching Out M.B.A. job fair, an annual event for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students enrolled in M.B.A. programs.

Exxon is hardly a pioneer when it comes to gay rights, and it still lags far behind most major American corporations. Some of the recent changes were imposed on the company by federal law and Supreme Court decisions. Others, like endorsing employee participation in a gay pride parade, seem aimed at recruiting and retaining talented employees.

“It’s a bit of a stretch to say the whole place is loosening up,” J. Chris Martin, a refining and supply operations manager in public affairs based in Houston, told me this week. Mr. Martin is president of Pride, the company’s [LGBT] resource group. “I think what’s changed is that we’ve been able to show there’s a business advantage to the company,” especially in recruiting.”

Exxon Mobil’s Pride group launched as an official company affinity group in 2008. It represents about 700 employees worldwide. Members worked from the inside to help sway policy changes.

The company has long maintained that it does not discriminate for any reason, so it didn’t “need” an inclusive non-discrimination policy. Even so, changes despite deep-seated resistance appear to signal that Exxon finally sees catching up on the issues plays to its advantage as the next frontiers for gay rights unfold.

[New York Times]



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