Leadership, language, resources: How some Missouri companies work to ensure LGBTQ equality

Some companies do better than others to create an LGBTQ-friendly work environment. Many that succeed in creating equal and inclusive workplaces share similarities, ranging from supportive leadership teams, to regular training sessions, to prominent employee resource groups.

Twenty-one Missouri companies received a 100% rating this year in the annual Corporate Equality Index released by the Human Rights Campaign. The index measures companies’ policies, benefits, culture and social responsibility, particularly to the LGBTQ community.

More than 750 businesses nationwide earned a perfect score this year, up from 686 in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The 21 Missouri companies earning a perfect score included Ameren. The St. Louis-based power company works to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by establishing a strong anti-discrimination policy and employee resource groups, or ERGs, said Crystal Smith, Ameren’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“It ensures that our coworkers understand what is not tolerated in the workplace,” Smith said, “and how we can better support each other.”

GLEAN, the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender Employees & Allies Network, is one of the six established ERGs at Ameren. And each group has an executive adviser selected from the executive leadership team.

“It’s very important that our coworkers see that our leaders from the very top support and are also engaged,” Smith said.

Ameren also has educational training and activities for employees to improve awareness of LGBTQ equality, and it tries to foster a gender-neutral environment.

“We didn’t always have unisex bathrooms. Well, now we have unisex bathrooms,” Smith said. “We encourage gender-neutral language in the workplace.”

Ameren implemented a pronoun initiative that allows employees to self-identify on the company’s communication platforms such as email and the office messaging app.

Similarly, the Clayton-based health insurance company Centene started an employee inclusion group, cPRIDE, to create an inclusive environment within the company. Centene is another Missouri company that received a 100% rating in the Corporate Equality Index.

Erika McConduit, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Centene, said in an email that cPRIDE aims to “provide development, support, mentorship, and networking opportunities for its members while providing guidance on how Centene can become the best place for LGBTQ+ employees to work.”

The group has coordinated Pride festivities since 2018, including a virtual pride in 2020 with multiple webinars focusing on allyship and supporting LGBTQ youth, McConduit said.

Moreover, Centene launched the “I Count – Why I Self-Identify” campaign last year.

The campaign provided employees with opportunities to update their profiles with “an LGBTQ+ ID,” McConduit said. “While the self-identification process is confidential, it enables employees to influence (diversity and inclusion) strategic development,” she said.

Companies like FleishmanHillard have come up with some creative ways to foster a diverse and inclusive working environment. The St. Louis-based public relations and marketing agency earned a perfect score from the Corporate Equity Index.

“Our global #LoseTheWhisper conversations … spotlight colleagues from diverse backgrounds, including within the LGBTQ community, to share their unique stories and perspectives year-round,” FleishmanHillard account executive Alyssa Potter said in an email.

FleishmanHillard also holds internal events to foster open dialogue for employees to share experiences and listen to each other, Potter said in the email.

At Kansas City-based law firm Polsinelli, another of the state’s 21 companies to earn perfect scores in the index, diversity and inclusion efforts start with emphasizing the importance of being respectful.

Philip Hampton, Polsinelli’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, said, “We constantly remind our employees that they need to be respectful and understanding of every one of all of our members of the firm, both attorneys and non-attorneys, regardless of any, you know, real or perceived differences.”

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