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How Leadership can Influence Industry-Wide LGBT Inclusion

By Melissa J. Anderson

Yesterday, Bank of America hosted the second annual Out on the Street Summit, a gathering of LGBT employees and straight allies in the financial services to share best practices on building a more inclusive workplace.

One of the key ideas presented at the event was the importance of leadership advocacy for the issue of building an environment where every employee can bring his or her whole self to work.

Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, opened the conference. He explained that he felt it was critical for top firms to be a voice for equality, and to ensure that every employee is able to come to work every day and not have to leave who they are at the door.

He added that he believes his colleagues at all of the large firms across Wall Street feel the same way.

Much has been said about the business case for diversity, and quite a bit of the discussion from last year’s Out on the Street summit focused on this topic. But Moynihan pointed out that while the business case is clear, that’s not the most important aspect to him. It’s just the right thing to do, he explained. As a leader, he believes, it’s up to him to guide the conversation about LGBT inclusion within his company and industry.

Industry Change

Out on the Street was founded by Todd Sears, who remarked on the changes that have taken place over the year, since the first summit. In fact, he continued, the model of Out on the Street is influencing other industries. For example, he explained, he was recently approached by members of the CIA, who, after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, wanted to organize a similar event for the security industry.

Sears believes it speaks volumes about the pace of change, when it comes to LGBT equality.

Similarly, Mark Stephanz, Vice Chairman, Global Financial Sponsors, Bank of America Merrill Lynch was surprised about the pace of his own personal journey. He explained that only a few years ago, he couldn’t have imagined myself speaking publicly about LGBT inclusion.

Stephanz came out in 2008 – at work and to his family – and, although he had envisioned a worst case scenario, he said most reactions were positive or even nonchalant. In fact, he added, most of his clients treat him exactly the same as they did before.

Leadership Advocacy

Stephanz moderated a discussion between Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO, and Paul Singer, Founder and General Partner of Elliott Capital Management Corporation.

Blankfein, who recently appeared in a video supporting same sex marriage, said he is surprised to have found himself as a spokesman for this issue.

In fact, he continued, he’s found the discussion around his advocacy somewhat embarrassing – in that, he feels, his LGBT advocacy shouldn’t be as big of a deal as it has become. The gratitude he’s received for his support of LGBT equality has been energizing, he said – and sobering.

But as a leader, he explained, he wants to keep the ball rolling toward LGBT equality, particularly when it comes to same-sex marriage. Helping to pass same-sex marriage in the State of New York has enabled Wall Street to continue to attract top talent.

Finally, referring to Moynihan’s discussion, he said he is saddened by the thought that many people come to the office, feeling they can’t be themselves at work – and he wants that to change. Non-inclusive cultures cause otherwise productive people to waste energy hiding who they really are.

Singer said he was motivated to support LGBT inclusiveness after his son came out to him a few years ago, and since then, he has been a leading political organizer and conservative supporter of LGBT issues. Additionally, he said, he believes that LGBT equality will eventually be a non-issue in times to come.

As someone who is active in politics, he added, he feels that nothing he has done has been as impactful on individual’s lives as his support for LGBT equality.

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