By Melissa J. Anderson

The Human Rights Campaign released its 2012 Corporate Equality Index earlier this month, announcing the big news: despite increasingly tough standards, 190 of the companies polled received perfect scores.

Three years ago, the HRC announced that it would be creating more stringent goals for companies to achieve in order to gain perfect scores on the index, which has become the gold standard for benchmarking corporate acceptance for LGBT employees. By this year, to gain a 100%, companies would have to provide equal healthcare coverage for transgender individuals, including coverage for sexual reassignment surgery.

The inclusion of transgender healthcare benefits proved challenging for a number of companies – last year, 337 companies earned top rankings. This year that number decreased significantly. But, HRC President Joe Solmonese wrote in a recent article in the Huffington Post, this is all part of the organization’s goal to become more inclusive of its constituents – and to honor those companies that are truly providing “best-in-class” workplaces for their employees. He implied that by upping the ante, the HRC is working to influence companies to change their policies.

Solmonese wrote, “As companies compete to recruit and retain the best employees and influence consumer choices, CEI ratings have redefined the norm for how all companies treat LGBT workers and their families.”

Do corporate rankings really move the needle toward inclusion for underrepresented groups? According to the HRC, they do.

New Stringent Guidelines

This year’s qualifications for becoming a top company included tougher benchmarks to meet – and companies were informed that they would have 3 years to implement the changes in order to receive a 100% score.

Solmonese wrote that the announcement was accompanied by significant changes in the LGBT inclusion space across the US. “While the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies has become a standard since 2002, the addition of gender identity is now part of the policies of 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies for the first time, a growth rate of 1,567 percent since 2002.”

In the same time period, he noted, the number of Fortune 500 companies offering domestic partnership benefits has risen by 76%.

Finally, he added, the HRC is directly responsible for the number of companies implementing equal health coverage to transgender employees. He wrote, “As a result of new criteria instituted by HRC this year that is a requisite to a perfect score, the number of companies offering comprehensive health care coverage to their transgender workers has increased to 207 from 85 last year and 49 in 2009.”

Top Companies Discuss Influence of the CEI

Several companies gave statements discussing their pride in receiving a perfect score this year. In fact, some even described their LGBT inclusiveness journey, and how working with the HRC had influenced their policies. For example, Amanda Groves, Partner and Chair of the Diversity Committee at Winston & Strawn LLP said:

“The firm has made it its business to create and support LGBT initiatives that are relevant and meaningful. In the process, we have learned some real world lessons about tolerance, equality, and openness – from leading diversity innovators, from our clients, and from many others in the business community. That HRC has recognized our efforts is humbling. It also gives us encouragement to keep at this hard work. We feel very fortunate to stand with a group that is working to create a much more diverse business world.”

Todd Corley, SVP Diversity & Inclusion at Abercrombie & Fitch agreed. He said:

“Abercrombie & Fitch is especially proud this year in receiving another perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index, because this year marked a change in the scoring criteria used to achieve this honor. The new more inclusive policies, challenged us to make sure that we were not just ‘talking the talk’ but ‘walking the walk.’ Through A&F’s corporate values and sound diversity strategy, we remain committed to a focused and funded initiative that supports all of our associates including the GLBT community.”

While some companies will work to tick the boxes and insure they are included on every best-of list, it’s clear that the HRC’s new benchmarks are contributing to meaningful change at many companies – which ultimately benefits all employees.