Will Market's Pressures Harm LGBT Programs?

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Wall Street is making an effort to put the policies and procedures in place to discourage discrimination and sexual harassment. But as far as gays and lesbians go, do the words on paper stack up to real results and changes in attitude? With the industry under pressure, many are concerned these programs may become less of a priority, leaving employees much more vulnerable.

In the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's recently published Corporate Equality Index, the banking and financial services sector ranked high among industries with policies and procedures to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, consumers and investors. Only law firms did better. The foundation is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit devoted to education and outreach on LGBT issues.

According to Eric Bloem, the foundation's deputy director for the workplace project, those who participated in the report understand the LGBT community is a part of their workplace. The active and vocal LGBT community in New York helped propel these issues to the forefront of the area's banks and brokerage houses, making the firms some of the first to adopt written policies regarding LGBT diversity and discrimination.

"We first did the report in 2002, and what we found was that most of the companies that had these policies in place were in metro areas on the east and west coasts. Financial firms were quick adopters," Bloem says. Despite recent layoffs, economic turmoil, and mergers on Wall Street, he believes the downturn shouldn't have an adverse impact on policies for the LGBT community - or their retention as employees. "They need to keep their best and brightest, no matter who that may be, and this group includes those in the LGBT community."

An Insider's Perspective

But do policies and standard sensitivity classes equate to a fair footing when managers are hiring or promoting? More importantly, are gay and lesbian employees work penalized for coming out at work? In a recent conversation, four traders on the floor of the American Stock Exchange, who preferred not to be identified, agreed it's still not acceptable for traders to admit they're gay or lesbian. (On Oct. 1, NYSE Euronext completed its acquisition of the American Stock Exchange.)

However, Jennifer Hatch, president and managing partner of Christopher Street Financial, a New York City life and wealth management firm that caters to the LGBT community, views the situation differently. "Wall Street is so much more accepting of lesbian and gay professionals" than when she started in the field and was working as an "out" professional, she believes. "When I left Bear Stearns 12 years ago, there were no written policies in place, like there are today."

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