The third annual Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which lists the top employers for gay people, has revealed that companies and organisations across the country are making progress in encouraging and supporting their gay staff.

To qualify as one of the 100 best UK employers in 2007, bosses had to demonstrate significantly higher standards of good practice in a wide range of areas.

Companies and organisations are asked a series of questions covering nine policy and practice areas and then awarded a percentage score.

Any organisation can take part free of charge.

Top of the 2007 list is IBM, with 95%.

Last year’s top scorer, Staffordshire Police, came second.

The Greater London Authority and Manchester City Council share third place with 93%.

As well as ranking the top 100 employers, the WEI helps companies improve their score by showcasing best practice within their industry.

Stonewall estimates there are 1.7 million LGBT people in the UK workforce.

Comparing data across sectors shows steady progress in many fields, with police forces continuing to improve.

“If you had asked me years ago, I would have supposed that media and health would be the best performing sectors,” explains Stephen Frost, director of Stonewall’s workplace programmes.

“In fact it is the banks and the police forces that are the best performing.

“If you look at where the gay and lesbian people are, in what are perceived to be “gay friendly” industries, like airlines or media companies, what level they are at in the company, you will find many of them are not breaking through the pink ceiling.

“Police forces have a long way to go but they are recruiting in the gay press and have senior openly gay people. Staffordshire police have an openly gay women at assistant chief level.

“It’s about walking the talk and about what are you doing to change.”

Larry Hirst, Country General Manager for IBM, said he was tremendously proud that the company had come top of the list.

“I am convinced that the principles of diversity, inclusion and equality must sit at the heart of any truly modern, successful and confident organisation.

“This award will give IBM the impetus to further embed these principles into the way we work, empowering all of our employees to succeed and thrive,” he said.

Stonewall’s policy and practice questions include asking if there is full monitoring of staff sexual orientation; if employee network groups are being routinely consulted by management on LGB issues and if diversity training specifically mentioning sexual orientation is compulsory.

Other targets are that organisations offer at least two types of LGB-specific staff support and have a lead person at board level with responsibility for diversity.

The presence of openly gay staff on the board or senior management team is also recorded in the index and contributes towards the overall score.

“You get an organisation which is good at ticking the boxes, but in practice the tough questions are ones like ‘Do you have a supported network group?’ or ‘Do you advertise in the gay media?’” says Frost.

100% of the top 100 companies provide the same benefits to straight and gay staff, 76% advertised or placed job adverts in the gay press and 92% supported a gay or lesbian event or organisation in the last 12 months.

One big surprise from this year’s index is the lack of progress made by legal firms.

“Law firms are the worst performing sector. They are like banking 10 years ago. They know if they work with us they will advance more quickly,” explains Frost.

The improved performance was most notable among participants in the Diversity Champions programme, those organisations that have chosen to work with Stonewall to learn and share best practice.

The Stonewall Champions scheme has many organisations that traditionally were not thought of as gay employers, including a Premiership football club, many leading investment banks and financial institutions, numerous police forces and the Royal Navy.

Stephen Frost runs the scheme, and the most recent recruit is the Royal Air Force. “The RAF signing up to the scheme shows that it is important to engage organisations with clear problems in the past. I want other services to follow the Navy,” he says.

“By joining the Diversity Champions programme the Royal Navy sent out a huge message about their approach to women, to ethnic minorities, it was a general statement that they as an organisation had changed, that mistakes had been made in the past and now they want to get it right. We can do the same for the air force.”

Here are the ten top-scoring companies on the Work Equality Index:

1 IBM 95%

2 Staffordshire Police 94%

3 Greater London Authority 93%

3 Manchester City Council 93%

5 Nacro 92%

6 Lloyds TSB 91%

7 Brighton Hove City Council 90%

8 Goldman Sachs 89%

8 KPMG 89%

8 Transport for London 89%

11 Hampshire Constabulary 88%

11 Sheffield City Council 88%

13 BT 87%

13 Greater Manchester Police 87%

15 West Midlands Police 86%

16 Barclays 85%

16 Home Office 85%

18 Citigroup 84%

19 Accenture 82%

19 JPMorgan 82%