Wall Street Banks Come Out in Support Gay Employees


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.

But research has shown that LGBT employees who are "out" are more productive and satisfied with their job, and more likely to remain in their positions than those who hide their sexual orientation, said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, director of the Center for Work-Life Policy.

Being "in the closet," can lead to "isolation and disengagement," Hewlett said at the summit.

Selisse Berry, founding executive director of the nonprofit Out and Equal Workplace Advocates in San Francisco, said she founded the organization because people are their most productive and satisfied at work when they can bring all of themselves to the job.

"Discrimination is bad for business and that's why so many of the Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation [87 percent] and gender identity [43 percent]. And those numbers keep steadily rising," Berry said.

'Unique' Financial Needs of LGBT Community

When he had the idea for the summit 10 years ago, he wasn't quite sure it would work at the time. Homosexuality was an especially politically charged topic in 2000, in part, because Vermont had recently become the first state to introduce civil unions.

Now, a number of senior Wall Street executives are "out" and several of the major banks have staff that target LGBT clientele.

Bill Moran, a vice president at Merrill Lynch Private Wealth Management, said the LGBT has relatively more "unique needs" than other affinity groups, such as ethnic or other demographic groups, because of their the complicated and varying legal status of LGBT couples and families.

Sears, along with retired Gen. Colin Powell, also started the first Veteran's Network on Wall Street while at Credit Suisse.

Berry said same-gender married couples are denied tax breaks that heterosexual couples enjoy, and are taxed on the benefits their domestic partners receive. Out and Equal co-sponsored with Google this week a seminar for human resource professionals to close the income gap and bring equity in pay.

Moran is also director of Merrill Lynch's nationwide LGBT Financial Services team, the first such team on Wall Street that Sears established several years ago. Several other banks now have LGBT networks, including Deutsche Bank's "Rainbow Group."

Moran helps train other wealth advisers, many who are straight, to better serve his LGBT clientele.

"We have two straight wealth advisors in Dallas who own the market," Moran said at the summit.

But there is also a danger in stereotyping or clumping together any affinity group.

Brian McNaught, called "the godfather of gay sensitivity training" by the New York Times, said he hated the abbreviation, LGBT.

McNaught moderated a panel at the summit called, "Wall Street as a Workplace of Choice: Culture."

He said he instead prefers using the non-abbreviated words: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered.

"You should never use an acronym with people," said McNaught, president of Brian McNaught & Associates.

The speakers at the conference were not just from the LGBT community. A large number were "several senior straight allies" who are trying to recruit and support the LGBT community at their workplaces, according to Sears.

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