PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 1 /PRNewswire/ -- The FORTUNE 500 Project, a collaboration of Equality Forum with Professors Louis Thomas, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Ian Ayres, Yale Law School, announced that a record 462 (92.4%) of 2006 FORTUNE 500 Companies include sexual orientation protection. According to a May 2006 Gallup Poll, approximately 89% of U.S. citizens believe that gays and lesbians should have workplace nondiscrimination protection. "When 92% of the FORTUNE 500 and 89% of the public support workplace equality, Congress needs to respond. These seismic changes signal that gays and lesbians are valued as employees and, as citizens, deserve equality," stated Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director, Equality Forum. "We started the FORTUNE 500 Project in fall 2003 with 323 (64.6%) companies including sexual orientation protection. The additional 137 (27.2%) FORTUNE 500 Companies now providing that protection have a combined workplace of over 15 million employees," stated Ron Ansin, Chair, National Board of Governors, Equality Forum. The project communicated with CEOs and HR directors of the 177 FORTUNE 500 companies (35.4%) that did not provide such protection. By fall 2004, 82 companies were added, bringing the total to 405 (81%). Beginning in summer 2005, the project contacted the CEOs and Boards of Directors of the 95 (19%) remaining FORTUNE 500 companies that did not include sexual orientation protection. The project also communicated with the 25 largest mutual funds, investment managers, endowments, foundations and labor, state and municipal pension funds to solicit their support on proxy statements requesting sexual orientation protection. Among those responding, Vanguard determined that shareholder interest is best served by providing sexual orientation protection. At the 2006 Exxon Mobil annual shareholders meeting, Vanguard voted its 194,000,000 shares for sexual orientation protection, bringing to 35% the total of shareholders calling for nondiscrimination protection. "With no federal protection and only 16 states statutorily providing nondiscrimination for gays and lesbians, FORTUNE 500 Companies that include that protection contractually obligate the corporation to provide a workplace where merit, not intolerance prevails," said Professor Ian Ayres. "Including sexual orientation protection helps companies to tap into the over $600 billion annual U.S. gay and lesbian consumer market," said openly gay Allan Gilmour, former Vice Chair, Ford Motor Company. For more information on the FORTUNE 500 Project, visit http://www.equalityforum.com and click on FORTUNE 500.
SOURCE Equality Forum