The Surprisingly Queer-Friendly World Of Finance

by Natasha Gural

“American Psycho, The Musical” opens on Broadway in March. Twenty-four years after Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho hit brick-and-mortar bookstores, readers are still wrestling with one big question: was narcissistic yuppie Bateman — flawlessly portrayed by Christian Bale in the 2000 film — really committing the obscene and grisly murders he describes, or is at all just hallucinatory fantasy?

The hyper-masculine Bateman indulges in graphic sex with his women victims before he kills them. The book also is laced with homoeroticism. Bateman and his fashionable friends frequent gay bars and allude to raunchy homosexual acts. In the end, though, Bateman is a quintessential heterosexual. His character appeals to the seemingly endless array of women who once lusted after the now-imaginary star 1980s Wall Street banker and made serial killing seemingly easy sport.

Though the heyday of mergers and acquisitions and expensing pilot fish at Arcadia are long gone, the buttoned-up image of financial services lingers, albeit with less luster. But stock photos of men in perfectly tailored dark suits scratching their foreheads still connote a stitched-up, conservative world of financial services, highly secretive, and accessible only to the elite.

All of that may be true. What the world of finance is not, though, is homophobic. Gone are the floor traders, the hyper-successful bearers of bull-market streaks who moved up and out of their working-class neighborhoods; and with a shift in the industry is a revelation that banking and financial services companies are leading the way on LGBT workplace equality.

A report by Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation released this week found that a record-breaking 407 businesses nationwide scored 100 points in the Corporate Equality Index (CEI), and 50 of them are from the banking and financial sector. That’s second only to the legal sector in the number of perfect scores. It’s a major sea change, as just one banking and financial firm (JPMorgan Chase & Co.) was awarded 100 points when the CEI began in 2002.

“This caps another year of extraordinary leadership on LGBT workplace equality from the banking and financial services industry,” said Deena Fidas, director of the HRC Foundation’s Workplace Equality Program. “From the earliest days of the Corporate Equality Index, this has been a sector that got it: LGBT inclusion is not just the right thing to do, it’s smart business.”

The HRC Foundation is the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization. The HRC’s CEI is America’s leading benchmarking tool for LGBT workplace equality.

For the first time in its 14-year history, the HRC has required that top-scoring companies have a global non-discrimination policy or code of conduct that specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

There’s no denying that Wall Street lacks diversity. In response to requirements in the 2011 Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act), federal financial agencies and Reserve Banks began to report annually on the recruitment and retention of minorities and women and other diversity practices.

There are major strides to be made, especially at the top. According to a 2013 report by the General Accountability Office (GAO), management-level representation of minorities and women in the financial services industry and among federal financial agencies and Federal Reserve Banks didn’t budge much from 2007 through 2011.

Industry representation of minorities in 2011 was higher in lower-level management positions (about 20%) compared to about 11% of senior-level manager positions, according to GAO. Industry representation of women at the management level stagnated at about 45%. Agency representation of minorities at the senior management level in 2011 ranged from 6% to 17%, and from 0% to 44% percent at the Reserve Banks. Women’s representation ranged from 31% to 47% at the agencies, and from 15% to 58% percent at the Reserve Banks. Officials claim the key challenge to improving diversity was identifying candidates, noting that minorities and women are often underrepresented in both internal and external candidate pools.

Hundreds of U.S.-based multinational companies are promoting LGBT-friendly workplace policies in the U.S. and are helping to advance the cause of LGBT inclusion in the workplace abroad, according to this year’s CEI, which included results from 851 companies.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland; Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati, Ohio; Rockland Trust Co. of Rockland, Mass.; TD Ameritrade of Omaha; TD Securities (USA) LLC of New York; and Vanguard Group Inc. of Malvern, Pa., join top performers including JPMorgan, which earned the sector’s only perfect score in the first CEI and continues to set sector standards.

“Our nation’s top companies continue to rise to the challenge of creating workplaces that are fully LGBT-inclusive,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “This year’s CEI demonstrates yet again that America’s most successful companies continue to set the standard for inclusion, and understand that the fight for LGBT equality is a global endeavor, to be pursued with resolve and urgency.”

While the HRC data didn’t break down inclusion by specific sexual orientation, banks are increasingly marketing specifically to lesbians, too.

The drive to win lesbian banking customers is hardly altruistic, but it represents progress nonetheless. A 2012–2013 Prudential Research Study found that lesbians have a higher median individual income than women in general, and that lesbians’ overall household income is on par with gay men because the majority live in a dual-income household.

In April, Wells Fargo released nine different TV commercials in markets across the country, including one showing a lesbian couple learning sign language because they’re adopting a hearing-impaired child. It was the first of its kind for the banking industry. It does not seem like it will be the last.

Natasha Gural is an award-winning journalist, storyteller and writer of many things including a novel-in-progress tentatively titled Lubachka, a factual tale of survivor’s guilt based largely on her Russian mother’s early childhood as a prisoner in concentration and labor camps in Poland and Germany. Follow Natasha on Twitter @natashagural.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.