Business giants are glad to be gay

The Guardian

London, January 9:

Some of Britain’s most powerful companies and public bodies will be named this week as leaders of a drive to give gay people the same rights as heterosexuals.

As the battle to take advantage of the economic power of the ‘pink pound’ grows, the gay lobby group Stonewall will release the first ‘corporate equality index’. It will rank employers according to criteria ranging from whether they promote anti-discrimination policies to whether they have gay staff in their boardrooms.

It follows a similar index in America which has become an important economic driver for firms fighting for billions of dollars spent by gay people. In Britain the power of the ‘pink pound’, money spent by gay people with companies and organisations often seen as equality-friendly, is growing. The Stonewall index names the British Council, the government agency charged with selling Britain abroad, as the best employer. Once considered a fusty outpost of the Foreign Office, the council tops a list of 100 employers.

Sir David Green, the council’s director-general, was ‘thrilled’ that his organisation had topped the index, with 89 per cent. This recognised its work “to promote equality and diversity in our employment practices both in the UK and around the world,” he said.

The top 100 employers include 12 FTSE 100 companies and 11 government departments, and was dominated by blue-chip banks and local authorities. Tied in second place on 88 per cent were the American banks Citigroup and Credit Suisse First Boston, technology giant IBM and Manchester city council. The government departments for Constitutional Affairs and Education and Skills, and the Inland Revenue, were also into the top 10.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said the index would give Britain’s 1.7 million gay people the chance to choose a gay-friendly employer, “No longer are people prepared to be silent. Now it’s much easier for them to say to employers: what are you doing for gay staff?” He warned that greater awareness of gay rights means that employers will have to pay more attention to the needs of gay employees if they are to attract the best heterosexual staff too. “If employers don’t reflect the world younger people inhabit, they won’t recruit the best employees. Attracting gay staff is not a question of holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’; it’s a commercial decision by organisations looking to deliver shareholder value and world-class services.”

Jacqui Smith, a trade and industry minister, said, “I hope to see many more organisations coming to realise that equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people is common sense and good business.” The UK list is dominated by US-based firms which have long embraced gay rights.