When Marcie Osborn began working at General Electric (GE) Healthcare over 15 years ago, she had never given much thought to the voice she had as a shareholder in the company, or the change she could make as an employee.
“I used to read in the annual report about Pride Foundation, and how they were proposing that GE add sexual orientation to their Equal Employment Opportunity policy,” Marcie recalls. “I always wondered, ‘Who are these people? Thank you!’ Then I would vote in support of the policy change.”
When Marcie first started her job at GE, it was clear that management believed its policies were broad enough to cover everybody. However, as a lesbian, Marcie was always aware that GE’s policies did not clearly articulate that she would be protected from discrimination based on her sexual orientation.
“We all know that unless something is really specific, then people aren’t protected,” Marcie said. “Unless it is in your employment policies, it is not a guarantee.”
That is why Pride Foundation first started our shareholder advocacy work in 1997. We work with the companies we invest in to update their non-discrimination policies to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, filing shareholder resolutions if necessary.
GE was one of the first companies we began this work with, and our advocacy efforts led to the company adding sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policy in 2000 (in June of 2012 GE updated their policies to include gender identity or expression). Since we began this work, we’ve supported numerous companies in updating their policies—including McDonald’s, Walmart, Exxon-Mobil, Expeditors International, and Procter & Gamble to name a few—leading to better protections for over 2.9 million workers.
In addition to working with multinational companies, we also focus on publicly owned companies around the Northwest. Our latest victory occurred just two months ago—Schnitzer Steel, a company based in Oregon with 3,643 full time employees throughout the region, updated their non-discrimination policy to include gender identity or expression. We first approached Schnitzer Steel in 2009 and have been partnering with the company ever since. This change will provide much-needed protections to workers and paves the way for similar victories within this industry.
“I never really understood the importance of shareholder advocacy until I saw it in action with my own employer,” said Marcie. “Pride Foundation used their investment power for good, and I always appreciated that.”
For Marcie, “the culture at GE definitely changed [after enacting protections for LGBTQ workers]. You can be out and proud and not have it be a problem. I absolutely feel that way.”
The change in policy not only shifted the culture of the organization, it also laid the foundation for GE to begin offering partner benefits in 2004, which was groundbreaking.
Despite the fact that Marcie’s partner at the time already had health insurance, they decided she would drop her coverage and enroll in the new plan through GE.
“It felt important to me,” Marcie reflected. “Our company was making this big change, and I wanted to support it.”
GE has since made huge strides in supporting LGBTQ employees. The GLBTA Alliance within GE has grown and blossomed over the years, and the company is now “out in front” leading this work, according to Marcie.
“They have great webinars, bring big leaders in the field to speak, and are actively supporting the rights of transgender employees,” she said when asked how things have changed. “Before, the GLBTA Alliance was a small FAQ page, but it was hidden on the website and almost impossible to find.”
The impact of Pride Foundation’s shareholder advocacy work with GE ripples across all of GE’s subsidiaries, protecting 305,000 employees throughout their offices in the United States and around the world.
To Marcie, having GE add the words sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to their Equal Employment Opportunity policy has been pivotal. “It’s a sense of belonging,” she said. “I now know that I’m protected just as much as the person next to me. When you feel comfortable being yourself, then you know that you’re going to perform better as an employee.”
Marcie has been supporting Pride Foundation’s work for over a decade, but for her it all comes back to that fateful day when she first read about our shareholder advocacy work in 1998. “I’m proud to say I donate money to this organization that is holding big businesses accountable in this way. For me, that’s huge.”
While the story of Marcie and GE is one of success, there are still far too many LGBTQ workers throughout our region that are forced to hide a critical piece of who they are in order to keep their jobs. It is still legal to fire individuals in Alaska, Idaho, and Montana because of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
Nobody should have to wake up with the dread of knowing that they can’t be their full selves for the majority of the day, and that they must change how they dress, talk, or act to keep from being fired, harassed, or discriminated against at work. Our shareholder advocacy program will continue until everyone has the ability to be safe, genuine, and authentic in the workplace.
Zachary Pullin is Pride Foundation’s communications manager. Email Zachary.