Posted by: outandequal | June 5, 2012

ExxonMobil: The Language Matters

J. Kevin Jones

by J. Kevin Jones,  Jr., Out & Equal Deputy Director | Last week, ExxonMobil shareholders once again defeated a non-binding resolution that would have supported that the company include sexual orientation and gender identity to its stated no discrimination policies. The company recommended that shareholders vote against the resolution, referring to it as unnecessary, noting that discrimination and harassment of any kind is not tolerated under ExxonMobil’s current policies.  Explicit reference to sexual orientation and gender identity is unwarranted, according to the company’s position.

It is certainly good to see that ExxonMobil considers discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity unacceptable in its workplaces. The company does make space for its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees, supporting an LGBT employee group, for example.

Out & Equal Houston co-chair Mike Craig provides an important perspective from someone within the industry on ExxonMobil and its LGBT employees in a piece that he contributed to the Out & Equal blog. Click here to read it.

But the opportunity before ExxonMobil to do more — as one of the largest, most powerful corporations in the world — is significant. 

Internally, the company can do more in extending benefits that recognize the committed relationships and families of its LGBT employees, and I expect that LGBT employee leaders at the company have prioritized those opportunities in conversations with ExxonMobil management.

ExxonMobil’s visibility in the world, however, provides a platform for sending a clear message about the importance of providing harassment-free workplaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees everywhere.  Its chosen position  — that the explicit inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in nondiscrimination policies is unnecessary – sends a different message, especially when noting that other top multinational corporations adopted inclusive language years ago.

In fact, a popular perception in the community at large is that ExxonMobil as an organization is unconcerned with equitable treatment of LGBT employees.  Combined with its  well-publicized refusal to change its policy despite 14 years of shareholder initiatives,  ExxonMobil is probably the most frequently cited example of corporate bad behavior  vis-à-vis the LGBT community.  They seem to be comfortable with – or at least resigned to accept – that perception.

In this context, ExxonMobil actually has an opportunity to correct those perceptions.  More importantly, the company can decide to send a powerful message to the world that it believes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is unacceptable, reinforcing its own internal position and values.

Simply add the language.  It matters.


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