By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — A lot has changed since 1999.
And it’s become apparent by looking at Whirlpool’s Corp.’s employee resource group that focuses on inclusiveness and education among the LGBTQ community.
Whirlpool’s PRIDE Network has made great strides since its 1999 inception to the point that the Benton Harbor-based company makes changes that favor LGBT workers before the network can even ask.
“It started out as a couple employees who wanted more recognition at Whirlpool,” said Chris Rice, co-lead for PRIDE. “It’s progressed from an upstart network to a group of people who have integrated themselves into the fabric that Whirlpool does.”
With marriage equality passing last year, Rice said the company has adjusted well as a result. They had to deal with various changes, which included the tax level for employee protection on a federal level.
Rice said their role during that time was to help the company understand what the changes were and what policies would be affected.
“The law often falls short of what protects the employees,” he said. “What I’m happy about is Whirlpool works with us to help make sure our policies are not just following the law, but keeping the whole employee in mind.”
The network has more than 250 active members. Four years after PRIDE began its work, Whirlpool would become the first, and so far only, appliance maker to receive a 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign.
The company has received perfect scores ever since the initial honor in 2003.
Tim Buszka, communication lead for PRIDE, joked they’ve become more of a consultative panel as a result.
“We’re not the complete census of the LGBTQ community, but they respect the fact that we have our finger closer to the pulse,” Buszka said.
Whenever June pride month approached in the past, Buszka recalled a time when PRIDE representatives would have to go to each appliance brand to see if they reached out to LGBT consumers.
But that’s changed. Everything has become voluntary.
“We’re already a progressive company, and we always had to tell everyone to take credit for that,” Buszka said. “But now they’re coming to us because they’ve found that buying power value.”
Rice said this can be tricky because the LGBT community is very savvy to being marketed to. That’s why part of the work PRIDE does is to put money where it matters. As a result, Whirlpool doesn’t market in a patronizing way, but is authentic in its outreach.
The network’s community events aren’t always run by Whirlpool employees. Sometimes, the network will support other local organizations like the Outcenter and the Mr. Friendly educational program.
From a consumer’s perspective, Rice said if someone from the LGBTQ community spends a dollar on Whirlpool products, they’ll want to know where that dollar goes.
“They’ll find that dollar goes back into the LGBTQ community,” he said. “It’s been called the pink dollar in economic forums.”
Randy Maples, employee lead for PRIDE, said the network serves as another avenue to increase recruitment at Whirlpool.
Maples said they do this through summits with other major companies like Kellogg’s and Ford. This year, Maples said Whirlpool was able to host a major summit between companies in September where inclusiveness was a topic of discussion.
“They invest in us the ability to go out into bigger markets like Chicago as we plan with the talent acquisition team to try and bring in more diverse talent,” Maples said.
The network doesn’t keep its ideas in-house either. Rice said they are trying to work with competitors to right the ship for LGBT relations.
“It’s a broad stroke of doing the right thing for people,” Rice said. “If there’s another appliance manufacturer that’s trying to come along, we’ll be at events and summits to coach them on how to make the workplace better.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 27, 2016)