By Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)

Nine years ago before the Human Rights Campaign‘s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI) began grading American workplaces based on their inclusion and treatment of GLBTQ workers, it was difficult to tell which companies actually were creating inclusive, diverse workplaces and which were just jumping on the GLBTQ-friendly bandwagon, sponsoring an event here or there and calling it a day.

A company’s willingness to sponsor Pride events is a positive step in the right direction, but as the HRC’s CEI reveals, it requires more than that to affect any sort of change on an internal or external level. Essentially, the CEI is an in-depth analysis and rating of large U.S. employers and their policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. Using a point system, each company is then rated based on their responses to the CEI survey, which covers equal employment opportunity policy, employment benefits, organizational LGBT competency, public engagement, and responsible citizenship

Businesses are rated on a scale from 0 to 100 and this year, an unprecedented 337 major U.S. businesses earned the top rating of 100 percent, up from 305 last year. According to the HRC, the top five industries for employers rated 100 percent include law firms, banking and financial services, retail and consumer products, food, beverages, & groceries, and insurance.

Beyond just lip service and easy advertising, there are corporations who are truly devoted to creating an inclusive workplace that both offer helpful services to GLBTQ clients and provide services internally to GLBTQ employees. Two of these top companies, Esurance and Bank of America, used the ratings to make bold statements about how employees deserve to be treated and what true diversity means. Here’s why every kind of diversity must be valued for a company to be successful.

Esurance Inc.

With issues such as gay marriage and equal rights still creating controversy, Esurance President and CEO, Gary Tolman, made a bold statement when he said that diversity and inclusion are more than just a concept, political statement, or soapbox to the company. “It’s part of who we area; it’s part of where we’ve come from; and most important, it’s part of what we do,” Tolman said.

In 2011, Esurance earned their fourth 100 CEI rating in a row. Not only does the insurance company have progressive practices in place such as matching their employees donations to charities and rewarding employees with paid time off for volunteering at organizations of their choice, but they were also one of the first companies to donate and sponsor Pride events around the country and to offer discounts to domestic partners who list on the same policy.

Esurance goes the extra mile in creating an inclusive work environment for their employees with their non-discrimination policies, transgender health benefits, and domestic partner benefits.

Johanna Steans, Esurance’s Learning and Development Consultant, believes Esurance succeeds at creating a workforce that feels validated and respected and in turn, GLBTQ employees provide diversity of thought and opinion, which keeps the company dynamic and moving forward.

For those companies that didn’t receive a 100 rating on the HRC CEI, Steans believes the first thing they must secure is the support and encouragement from those at more senior levels who can provide them with resources and a budget to move forward with their diversity initiatives.

“The best policies don’t come together over night,” Steans said. “There needs to be a foundation for diverse hiring and inclusion practices and the companies who fail to do that also don’t take the time to understand the cultural impact of their workforce. They fail to see the benefits of a diverse workforce and the long-term benefits of it. If a company is starting from scratch, they don’t need the exact details of their diversity initiatives; they just need a vision of the future and an idea of the progressive, diverse workforce they want to create.”

Bank of America Corp.

Of all of the companies rated on the CEI, Bank of America truly stands out as a company devoted to creating an inclusive workplace. 2011 marks the bank’s fifth year in a row receiving a 100 rating because the company has been a leader in supporting the GLBTQ community through progressive workplace practices, initiatives, and through partnerships with groups that serve the GLBTQ community and raise awareness of GLBTQ issues. The bank was one of the first financial institutions to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity into its non-discrimination policies and to offer comprehensive domestic partner benefits.

Bank of America was among the first companies to offer GLBTQ affinity banking products, now including the Human Rights Campaign and Rainbow Card credit cards and branded deposits products. The bank also has a new initiative as part of its Global Wealth & Investment Management business, which is providing U.S. Trust and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management advisors with a wide range of information and training to prepare them to better meet the unique financial needs of GLBTQ clients for comprehensive wealth planning services, including retirement and estate planning. The bank has also teamed up with GLBTQ non-profit organizations to provide financial planning seminars for high-net-worth GLBTQ clients.

Bank of America is also committed to ensuring that its supply chain reflects the diversity of its workplace and customer base, so the bank has a supplier diversity program in place that ensures diverse businesses are given maximum opportunity to participate in the company’s competitive contracting and procurement processes. These businesses include member organizations of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s Supplier Diversity Initiative, which certifies GLBTQ-owned businesses and works to provide them with corporate procurement opportunities.

The bank’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Resource Group (known as LGBT Pride) is a bank-supported employee affinity group representing LGBT associates and their supporters. LGBT Pride promotes the bank’s inclusive work environment and expands the recruitment, development and retention of top LGBT talent.

James Derosier is not only Bank of America’s SVP, Human Resources Manager, but he’s also co-leader of the LGBT Pride affinity group. Derosier believes Bank of America has been so successful at creating an inclusive workplace because of the company’s core values and their ability to be proactive about the unique challenges their diverse employees and customers may face.

“We’re able to succeed on this level because of our company’s solid, core values and the importance we place on employees and customers. If we didn’t have this core, we couldn’t affect business. Our most valuable asset are the people who work at our banks and in order for them to reach their full potential, they must feel included, respected, and understood in the workplace,” Derosier said. “From the very beginning, we’ve had a long-standing commitment to diversity; it’s woven into our culture. We’re always looking at employees to see what they’re facing; we’re always seeking out ways to make things more inclusive. It’s a constant evolution. It’s the journey that’s important to Bank of America, not the destination.”