By Melissa J. Anderson

“We are at our best when we can be our full selves, and we can attract the best and the brightest when they can be their full selves,” began Jacqueline LiCalzi, Managing Director in Company Compliance at Morgan Stanley, and co-chair of the firm’s Pride (LGBT) employee networking group.

One quality of a truly inclusive workforce – rather than one merely tolerant of diversity – is an outward display of support by colleagues. And as firms take steps to advance inclusion, ally networks are popping up across Wall Street and the rest of corporate America.

Ally networks are groups for straight employees to outwardly express their support for LGBT coworkers and formally participate in Pride events and initiatives. These networks do a lot to show support for LGBT employees, many of whom may not be out of the closet (according to research by the Center for Work Life Policy, roughly half of LGBT employees are still in the closet at work) or may be struggling with personal issues as well as workplace ones.

According to LiCalzi, ally networks are the next step in LGBT diversity efforts. Here’s why.

Formalizing Commitment to Support

This summer, financial services firm Morgan Stanley launched its own ally initiative in the U.S. and the U.K. – but LiCalzi said, it’s really always been there.

“It’s a relatively new initiative, in the sense of being formalized,” she explained, “but we’ve always had senior management champions and supporters of LGBT networking and recruiting networks.”

But now the group is official, she continued. Launched during Pride month this year, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman spoke at the kickoff event at the firm’s New York headquarters, as did Greg Fleming, President of the firm’s wealth management and investment management businesses.

And that meant a lot, LiCalzi said. “There have always been people in management – including my own boss – who have supported LGBT employees. But with the Ally program, those people have the opportunity not just to be bystanders but actively engaged.”

She continued, “And setting the tone from the top is great, but it’s also important to see that commitment embedded in the culture. It shows that Morgan Stanley is not just about the talk – it’s about the action.”

The outward commitment to LGBT employees goes a long way – and even the little things count. “Now there are occasions when I walk into an office and I see tent cards up declaring that people are allies.” She explained that the cards serve as visual signifiers of support for LGBT employees on behalf of allies across the firm.

And, while she’s been comfortable being out for a long time, she said, she has heard from colleagues who aren’t as comfortable being out that the support makes a big difference. “The feedback is that it’s incredibly meaningful to them to know it’s a safe place.”

“And it shows that it’s not just one person at the top saying all the right things, but that we have allies across the firm.” She continued, “It shows that diversity and inclusion are not just written into policies, but that they are actually embedded in our culture.”

She added, “Of course the written policies and protections are also important! But to see that support visibly every day in the work environment makes a huge difference.”

Truly Inclusive

Morgan Stanley also has launched a Campus Recruiting Ally Program, to align with the firmwide Ally Program and create a broader infrastructure of advocates and resources for LGBT students. “From what I’ve seen, Millennials are not just excited about seeing it, but they expect it,” she explained.

“Young people want to be their full selves, but also come to a place where they can find the opportunity to grow and network.”

But the group is not just composed of younger employees. LiCalzi explained, “I see people across the firm of all age groups joining the ally network or the Pride network – not just the younger people. There is evidence of support across the firm at all levels of seniority.”

She continued, “It really is a different world than when I joined Wall Street twenty years ago.”