A packed auditorium filled with gay and lesbian Wall Street bankers and straight “allies” received repeated assurances this week that they can finally be themselves at work. Making it particularly compelling was that the comments came from Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who said he feels “sad” about “all those years of waste” where gay financial executives had to “be false” about their identities.
The place was Bank of America headquarters in Manhattan, and the forum was the second annual LGBT summit Out On The Street, whose leadership committee includes senior leadership from Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, Citibank, UBS, HSBC and KPMG, as well as Goldman.
“As a corporate leader, a recruiter and as a human being, I have no reservations about doing this,” Blankfein said from the podium, referring to his LGBT advocacy role. “It’s not a burden at all—it’s not heavy lifting—quite the other way.”
The event—which drew attendance from an estimated 225 individuals—included an appearance from Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation, who released new statistics showing that:
- 59 percent of the LGBT community are not out at work, and the numbers are worse in finance; in financial services, 55 percent of females and 33 percent of males are still in the closet at work, according to the new data.
- Among LGBT professionals who are closeted at work, almost three-quarters (73 percent) are more likely to say they plan to leave their company within three years.
- LGBT workers who are not out are 40 percent less likely to trust their employers.
- Among those at the director level and above who’ve come out at work, 90 percent say they trust their employer versus only 74 percent of directors and more senior level execs who are not out.
For gay employees who are out at work, “trust, engagement and performance” are more pronounced, Hewlett told the forum.
Blankfein, meanwhile, continued to drive home the point that at Goldman, “You don’t [need to] check who you are at the door,” and that his firm is absolutely “an appropriate place for you to work” if you’re a member of the gay community. Blankfein also starred this year in an advertisement by the Human Rights Campaign endorsing gay marriages.
“Market doesn’t care if you’re gay or straight”
Goldman’s commitment is “not without a price,” he told the audience, referring obliquely to “some adverse reaction by someone” who didn’t want to continue a relationship they had with Goldman due to the company’s stance on this issue. “I won’t say the name but if you heard [it] it wouldn’t surprise you,” he said with a smile. Generally though, Wall Street is “among the most egalitarian places,” he says. “The market doesn’t care whether you’re black or white, tall or short, gay or straight.”
Mark Stephanz, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Financial Sponsors vice chairman, moderator of a panel discussion with the Goldman CEO and someone who is himself out as a gay professional observed toward the end there still are not many “openly gay, client-facing bankers on Wall Street.”
Blankfein suggested that perhaps the best thing to do is to follow his example: “I just assume that a percentage of everybody I’m talking to is gay,” he said. The comments drew boisterous laughter and applause.