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W.W. Grainger earns perfect HRC CEI score right out of the gate

Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

This profile is part of a series about some local businesses that have scored perfectly on HRC'S Corporate Equality Index.

W. W. Grainger, Inc. ( Grainger ) received a 100-percent score on the Human Rights Campaign's ( HRC ) Corporate Equality Index ( CEI ) this past year when, for the first time ever, they filled out HRC's corporate survey.

Grainger is one of a number of companies and firms with headquarters in and around Chicago ( out of a total of 366 nationwide ) to achieve a perfect score this past year and earn the distinction of "Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality."

With headquarters in the suburb of Lake Forest, Grainger is, according to its website, "North America's leading broad line supplier of maintenance, repair and operating ( MRO ) products serving businesses and institutions."

Part of the reason Grainger achieved its perfect score is its Equality Alliance business resource groups ( BRG ). Equality Alliance is one of eight employee-led BRGs—Administrative Business Partner, African-American, Asian Pacific Islander, Generational, Latino, Women. and Veterans and Military Supporters—that were formed to further Grainger's global marketplace position and bottom line by leveraging the unique and diverse perspectives of its employees, enhance professional growth, promote multicultural understanding, provide diverse leadership development, attract and retain employees and serve the community.

Although Grainger has had BRGs for about eight years, the Equality Alliance and Veterans and Military Supporters groups weren't added until 2013.

The genesis of Equality Alliance began about three years ago with a small group of LGBT employees including Michael Gooding, who became Equality Alliance's first and current president.

Gooding—senior channel development manager of Grainger's Tier One diverse reseller program, Distributor Alliance—was tasked with presenting the group's ideas to the company's senior vice-president and general counsel, John Howard. Howard, an ally who also became the Equality Alliance BRG's executive sponsor, told Gooding to put his presentation away because the company had already decided to approve the BRG. Gooding said this surprised him because he thought he would have a hard time selling the idea; however, Howard told him the ultimate goal is to have an equal and equitable workplace that is welcoming to everyone, so approving the Equality Alliance BRG was a no-brainer for the company.

Equality Alliance has about 315 members at Grainger locations across the United States and Canada with over half of those members working at Grainger's Chicago area offices. The BRG's leadership team includes Gooding and 12 other individuals, who meet on a weekly basis and are currently working on setting up local chapters to further the BRG's reach.

Gooding explained that the Equality Alliance BRG has given a voice to LGBT team members, including himself.

"I'm gay and married with a daughter, so this gives a voice to people like me and it's enabled allies to show support for their LGBT family members, friends and co-workers," Gooding told Windy City Times. "LGBT people can be fired in a number of states where sexual orientation and gender identity aren't a protected class, however, that's not the case at any Grainger office and facility no matter where it's located.

"In the past, when I've had to hide my sexual orientation, I wasn't working as hard as I could. At business meetings I've attended in the past couple of years, it's been really humbling to meet long-term employees who've shared their stories about what it means to them to be out at work, talk about their significant others and families, receive all the great benefits that their straight counterparts receive and be treated as equals."

"Grainger has a longstanding commitment to equality, dignity and inclusion for all of its team members, customers and suppliers," said Howard. "This applies regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation or gender identity. This is really part of who we are. Grainger is a company that always does the right thing."

"It was really important to me when looking for a new job to find a company that put a high value on LGBT equality in the workplace," said Mark Boileau, Global Trade Compliance program manager and Equality Alliance BRG member. "When I was applying to Grainger, I learned that they've continued to stay ahead of the curve to proactively support and offer equal treatment to all LGBT team members. It's a privilege and a personal passion to serve as a part of the Equality Alliance BRG leadership team. We have tremendous support from our executive leadership and from our numerous ally team members to carry our momentum forward."

"Having an inclusive workplace is critical for the success of a thriving business because it attracts the best people and encourages employees to be themselves. It also promotes healthy dialogue which can lead to innovation," said Nathan Whittom, Product Management specialist and Equality Alliance BRG member. "I first joined the Equality Alliance BRG because I used it as an opportunity to come out at work and I wanted to be part of making Grainger a more inclusive workplace."

"Whether it's the CEI or the events and activities that we do in conjunction with the BRG, they are really designed to attract and retain that great talent and for the company to show its support for the LGBT community," said Gooding. "The goal is to show people the type of company that Grainger is in terms of inclusion and diversity efforts regarding the LGBT community."

In 2013, Equality Alliance held a kick-off celebration with guest speakers from Out & Equal and Allstate. The group has hosted training opportunities on LGBT inclusivity as well as Q&A sessions in 2013 and 2014 with Grainger's benefits department.

Last October, Equality Alliance organized a training event around Spirit Day, October 15. Team members were also asked to wear orange in solidarity with the LGBT community that day. In 2014, the group held a joint event with the Veterans and Military Supporters BRG to discuss Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the impact to LGBT service members both before and after the law's repeal.

Recently, Equality Alliance held a meeting about Grainger's perfect HRC CEI score and what that meant to the company. Team members and leaders were also invited to sit in on that meeting.

"One of the interesting things about the perfect score from HRC was we already had almost all these things in place but we just never told anybody about it," said Gooding. "I'm exceedingly proud of the company that we work for and the efforts they've made to be inclusive. That commitment went all the way to the top. When we got the score from HRC our CEO James Ryan made the announcement to the entire company. We also have a banner outside of our cafeteria and the very beautiful award from HRC sits on my desk."

"Grainger actually added non-discrimination language for sexual orientation and gender identity eight years before the Equality Alliance BRG was created," said Gooding. "We were definitely ahead of many other companies in terms of gender identity non-discrimination protections."

Along with the initiatives and events that the Equality Alliance has spearheaded, Grainger has also extended its LGBT reach outside of the company. Just last year, Grainger became a corporate sponsor of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce ( NGLCC ).

"We attend those [NGLCC] meetings and conferences as well because we don't just want to have our team members be out and open at work, we also want to have an inclusive supply chain," said Gooding. "Through our relationship with the NGLCC, we seek LGBT-owned companies to include in our Supplier Diversity Program."

For the past two years, Grainger has also sponsored Reaching Out MBA to attract the best LGBT MBA students to work for the company. In 2014, Grainger sponsored the Center on Halsted Silver Fork Program and this year Grainger was a sponsor of Point Foundation's Leadership Forum.

On the political front, Grainger signed on as a corporate supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2014 and this year the company also signed on to an amicus brief for marriage equality when the U. S. Supreme Court took up the issue this past spring.

Most recently, about 75 Grainger team members and their families participated in Chicago's Pride Parade for the first time.

"I've been exceedingly proud of the progress that we're making as a company so every team member can bring their whole selves to work. That's a phrase that we use internally all the time and it really underlies the entire commitment that Grainger has towards diversity and inclusion," said Gooding. "In order for us to win in our industry we need to have those great policies and benefits to makes sure that we attract the best talent and then have that inclusive workplace so we can keep that talent."

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