Wall Street Banks Come Out in Support Gay Employees

Photo: Todd Sears

Todd Sears had been openly gay as a student at Duke University in Durham, N.C. So he didn't expect the need to be secretive about being "out" after he graduated in 1998 to work on Wall Street.

But soon after he started his entry-level job as a financial analyst for an investment bank, he heard someone at a nearby desk say a derogatory word toward gays.

He soon learned the traditional Wall Street work environment, with its stereotypically rigid culture, was anything but welcoming to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

After eventually joining Merrill Lynch, Sears, 35, said, he conceived of the idea of gathering the major Wall Street banks in an event for the LGBT community.

This week, 10 years after Sears first had the idea, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley participated in the inaugural Out on the Street LGBT Leadership Summit in New York.

"My goal was to hear experiences from senior business leaders, who are on the front lines with clients at these banks, and to have open and honest discussions about how Wall Street can continue to improve," Sears, now principal of Coda Leadership Consulting LLC and founding chair of the fashion benefit, Jeffrey Fashion Cares, said.

"I also wanted to shed light on some of the amazing commitment of these six banks to the LGBT community, because that's not always a story that is told."

Seth Waugh, chief executive of Deutsche Bank Americas, said his firm had at least two reasons to participate in the summit.

First, it wants to "make sure Wall Street is an attractive place for all people," Waugh said in his welcome remarks.

He said the second motivation was "commercial," alluding to LGBT clientele of financial services.

The LGBT community is about 5 to 10 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Census data also show that the LGBT community is generally more educated than the average U.S. population, according to Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law at UCLA and no relation to Todd Sears.

Employees Who Are 'Out' Are More Productive

The buying power of the LGBT community in 2010 was estimated at $743 billion, up from $732 billion in 2009, according to Packaged Facts and Witeck-Combs Communications.

The Out on the Street event at Deutsche Bank Wednesday was invitation-only for executives in the financial services industry who are at the "vice president level and above" and employees of the hosting banks. With an expected capacity of 125 attendees, more than 170 people attended the event, with a waiting list of more than 50 people.

The participating banks together have a market capitalization of about $449 billion and 889,000 employees globally, Sears said during the conference.

"My vision for this event is that it's annual, with the hosting banks rotating each year," Sears told ABC News, adding that while all the banks expressed a "strong interest" in hosting for 2012, Bank of America Merrill Lynch will be next year's host.

"Having said that, I think there will be interim events and gatherings, because this group is too passionate and engaged to wait a full 12 months."

With President Obama's repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in December and headlines about the prevalence of bullying LGBT youth, workplaces across the country have varying levels of acceptance of its LGBT staff and clientele.

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