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How Barilla transformed into a trailblazer for corporate equality

Nov 20, 2014

This post is in partnership with Entrepreneur. The article below was originally published at Entrepreneur.com.

By Geoff Weiss, Entrepreneur.com

A lot can happen in the space of a year. But the evolution of Italian food maker Barilla from a company lambasted for its president's anti-gay remarks to a company lauded as one of the best for LGBT employees seems a particularly telling feat.

From Tim Cook’s coming out in October to P&G’s (pg) public declaration just yesterday that it supports gay marriage, Barilla’s rapid about-face serves as yet another example of society’s changing attitudes towards homosexuality, in which maintaining an anti-gay corporate posture has become increasingly unfeasible.

Back in September 2013, Barilla chairman Barilla Guido notably said, “I would never do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don't agree with them. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role."

He added: “If [gays] don't like it, then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”

Fast-forward to today, where Barilla looks like a completely different company. It has expanded its health coverage to include transgender-related care, contributed money to gay rights causes and even -- contrary to Barilla’s initial vow -- featured a lesbian couple on a promotional website, reports The Washington Post.

These efforts have earned the company a spot on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) benchmarking index of the best workplaces for LGBT employees. The 2015 list celebrates 366 total companies “spanning nearly every industry and geography,” according to the HRC, which is the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group.

What a difference a year makes. Though Guido Barilla did apologize at the time amid boycotts from Italian gay rights activists, subsequent actions reflecting his remorse have shifted the company’s narrative towards one of redemption.

David Mixner, for instance, a veteran gay rights activist who consulted with Barilla on its turnaround, told the Post that the company’s work was “the most all-encompassing effort to bounce back from an unfortunate misstatement that I’ve ever been part of.”

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