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Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s top LGBT rights organization, recognized five Richmond-area Fortune 500 companies for workplace policies that do not discriminate against LGBT people, presenting them with the Virginia Fairness Award at a Jan. 8 reception. The ceremony was held at the downtown Richmond headquarters of Fairness Award recipient Capital One — named one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in attendance.
In addition to Capital One, the other companies honored for their LGBT-friendly workplace policies include tobacco giant Altria, used car retailer CarMax, Dominion, the commonwealth’s top provider of electricity and natural gas, and Genworth, a financial planning and insurance company.
“We have accredited these companies because they have policies in place that clearly welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees and protect them from discrimination in the workplace,” James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia said in a statement announcing the honorees. “These companies know that policies welcoming diversity and inclusion are not only good for business, but are the right thing to do.”
“Diversity, equality and inclusion are central to the Capital One culture, a culture that thrives because of the varying experiences, backgrounds and perspectives offered by our associates,” said Lane Hopkins, managing vice president of enterprise human resources at Capital One. “From programs and resources offered through our LGBT Associate Network, to a broad range of benefits and development opportunities, we are committed to fostering an environment where all of our associates feel heard, valued and respected. We are very proud to be recognized by Equality Virginia.”
The other companies being honored also acknowledged Equality Virginia for recognizing their efforts to promote workplace fairness.
“The families of today, including those of my colleagues at Genworth, reflect the great diversity that defines America. We are committed to supporting that diversity and creating an environment of inclusiveness for all of our employees,” said Marty Klein, the company’s chief financial officer. “It’s a commitment that also extends to our customers. As a provider of insurance solutions that help families become more financially secure, self-reliant and prepared for the future, we are dedicated to helping all families protect those they love. This is a mission we at Genworth share with Equality Virginia, and we are proud to be part of it.”
Others argue that adopting nondiscrimination policies just makes good business sense.
“At Dominion, we want to attract and retain the best employees,” added Shannon Venable, the company’s vice president of staffing and diversity. “I think this recognition demonstrates that Dominion is committed to providing a respectful and inclusive work environment for all of its employees — which is fundamental to attracting and retaining the best.”
Whether from a political or a business perspective, the Virginia Fairness accreditation is mutually beneficial to all those involved. All five Fortune 500 companies are able to use the honor, which highlights their pro-LGBT workplace policies, to help recruit and retain talent that might otherwise be reticent to settle or work in the commonwealth. Equality Virginia benefits by being able to get press surrounding the event, while simultaneously emphasizing that major companies headquartered in Virginia already have policies prohibiting workplace discrimination. And McAuliffe gets to tout the commonwealth’s pro-business policies that attract companies like the five Fortune 500 awardees to Virginia while also showing support for the LGBT community and its straight progressive allies, who constitute an influential bloc among his Democratic Party’s base.
By highlighting the policies already in place at all five companies, and celebrating their success, Equality Virginia is hoping to undercut as much opposition as possible to three bills — one in the state senate and two others in the House of Delegates, including one patroned by a Republican, Del. Ron Villanueva (Virginia Beach, Chesapeake) — that would protect all LGBT public employees from workplace discrimination or unwarranted termination based on their sexual orientation. But similar bills introduced in previous sessions have run into opposition from the Republican-dominated General Assembly. A contingent of moderate or fair-minded yet conservative Republicans in the state senate has often voted with Democrats to pass similar legislation through the upper chamber, but House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Fredericksburg, Stafford, Aquia Harbor) and several committee chairs have refused to hear those bills, instead choosing to relegate them to hostile subcommittees where they have no chance of passing (and, often, away from subcommittees where Republicans from Democratic-leaning or “swing” areas that are more socially moderate, like Northern Virginia or Hampton Roads, would be forced to take potentially unpopular votes).
While Virginia same-sex couples already have the freedom to marry, the commonwealth finds itself among a growing number of states where an LGBT person could get married legally, but could also be fired if, for example, their wedding announcement were published in a local paper. According to polling by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research — frequently cited by Equality Virginia — most Virginians wrongly assume that it is already illegal to refuse to hire or fire someone because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and 75 percent of Virginians would support a law protecting LGBT people from employment discrimination.
Equality Virginia hopes that by recognizing Virginia-based pro-equality corporations, they can convince General Assembly legislators that adopting similar nondiscrimination protections is neither unusual nor harmful to business. This is particularly aimed at General Assembly Republicans who wish to be seen as more “mainstream” conservatives or potential statewide candidates in the future. Unlike some of their colleagues whose political profile rests on their reputation as socially conservative firebrands, these other Republicans, often from more socially moderate regions of the commonwealth, have previously argued, without supporting evidence, that enacting such policies will prove burdensome to businesses and hinder economic growth, painting their opposition as motivated by economic concerns, rather than outright dislike of LGBT people.
“These companies are leading Virginia forward, and the Virginia Fairness accreditation is one way we can celebrate them for being leaders,” Equality Virginia’s Parrish said of the Fairness Award recipients. “Recognizing these companies at this particular time in history is especially meaningful because even with marriage equality, there is currently no state law in Virginia to protect public employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. These companies are setting the standard when it comes to promoting inclusivity, strengthening Virginia’s ability to recruit and retain a talented workforce and ensuring that Virginia is a welcoming place to live, work, and visit.”
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