The invisible hand 

Over two hundred years

Over two hundred years ago, Adam Smith wrote about the “invisible hand” which guides free markets to stability. In the 21st century, that capitalist pat on the butt seems to have brought more equality for lesbian and gay Lilly employees. To any who read the news in early June, Eli Lilly & Company was either joining the growing movement in America in the direction of equal rights for lesbians and gays—previewing the late-June Supreme Court opinion in Lawrence v. Texas — or caving in to the moral decay of our society. Lilly decided to grant domestic partner benefits to all of its United States-based employees, effective January, 2004. According to Lilly spokeswoman Joan Todd, Lilly did not announce the news. There was no press conference, and when Lilly spokespersons participated in the June news, it was in response to media inquiries after information had apparently been leaked from Lilly’s internal news network to the greater public. (Obviously, there was no press release, either.) Asked recently about what the decision meant, Todd said, “those involved in long-term, stable relationships will be getting the exact same benefits as married spouses.” When asked what the definition of “long-term, stable relationship” meant, Todd declined to elaborate. “That’s information available only to company employees.” There are, she said, “parameters,” but you have to get hired before you can find them out. Some Lilly employees outside the United States have already been granted domestic partner benefits. Why were they ahead of the United States move? Laws in New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, according to Todd. That the news is good for lesbian or gay Lilly employees must be inferred by the result of a multiyear effort to gain the benefits. No employees are allowed to speak about any aspect of their involvement with Lilly to anyone in the media — unless, of course, you’re a Lilly spokesperson. “We would never put an employee in the position of having to speak for the company,” Todd repeated crisply, never conceding for a minute that an employee might want to have her or his opinion about Lilly known. That these opinions became known, internally, was most important. Ongoing reviews of Lilly’s benefits showed that domestic partner benefits were the next things that would keep employees happy. In trying to discover more information about the — is it fair to say, secretive? — company, I asked Ms. Todd how long a nondiscrimination policy had been on Lilly’s books: “Several years now,” she said. “I’d have to look. But unfair treatment towards employees would not be in keeping with the company’s values — ideas we get from the time of its inception.” How domestic partner benefits came to be at Lilly must be discovered from outside of the company. In January, 2003, at the invitation of Lilly, Indianapolis-based members of the Human Rights Campaign, an national advocacy group which promotes equal rights for lesbians, gays and transgendered people, met with the company’s human resources representative and two gay employees to talk about the possibility of a policy. According to an interview with one of the HRC members in attendance, they showed a list of other pharmaceutical companies in America which had such benefits. Lilly was one of three that didn’t have them — at the bottom of the pharmaceuticals company heap, along with Madison’s Bayer and Pittsburgh’s Wyeth. The argument for benefits won the day. According to news accounts in June and in conversation with Joan Todd, along with employee bliss, the main reason for adopting the policy was to maintain Lilly’s competitiveness in gaining and keeping employees. In the oft-mentioned book, The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida, the so-called Gay Index indicates cities where stable, growing companies and their employees like to be. I.e., you got gays, you may also have a place where other good employees like to live and work. Lilly’s move, then, would seem to be a boon for the city of Indianapolis. When asked about the Lilly policy’s potential benefit for the city of Indianapolis, Todd said, “We did not do this to change anyone’s opinion about anything.” When asked more directly about the idea that Lilly was being a good corporate citizen by boosting the city’s rating on the Gay Index, Todd seemed perplexed and repeated that the policy was not aimed anywhere but inside Lilly. Vying for a public relations Spoof of the Year award, she said to this reporter, “I think you’re the first person to ever ask that question.” Surprised to hear that being a good corporate citizen was news to Lilly, I checked out the company website. Sure enough, they’ve long understood the idea, granting liberal time to employees to volunteer time in worthy causes that benefit company policy. Lilly’s non-announcement seems to indicate that it’s not interested in the Gay Index, or the City’s standing. Nevertheless, the company’s lead might provoke other large Indiana corporations to do the same. With the Hoosier Gold Standard for employee benefits finally giving full equality to its lesbian and gay employees, it should be difficult for others to continue to resist. Soon, believe it or not, the brain drain on the Hoosier State may be in reverse. And who do we have to thank? Sorry, Mr. Florida. This one gets credited to the cosmic groper of Adam Smith’s imagination.

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