When Kyle Bajtos, SY ’15, came out to his mother in high school, she told him she was worried about the “glass ceiling” that might impede his professional future as a gay man. Now, he admits, he understood her concerns. A political science major, Bajtos has always been interested in business. After graduation, he hopes to work in investment management; this summer, he plans to intern at a firm in London. But “public perception is that it’s not okay to be gay on Wall Street…that you need a wife and kids,” he explained.
Were her son just 10 years older, Bajtos’s mother might have had cause for concern. Just a decade ago, homophobia pervaded Wall Street, and industry experts deemed cultural change unlikely. “Wall Street still looks like it is far from seeing the earnings potential of gay people,” wrote a reporter for the financial news website TheStreet in 1997. His cynicism was warranted. This was, after all, the Wolf of Wall Street era: hyper-masculine and inhospitable to queerness. Still, with few anti-discrimination laws on the books, all of this was legal.
Dialogue about the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people on Wall Street began to emerge in the late 1990s. In 1999, a New York magazine article titled “Wall Street’s Secret Society” captured the harsh environment queer people faced in finance. Most workers remained closeted, the magazine reported. Although the industry’s leading LGBT organization—known subtly as the New York Bankers’ Group—had an eight-person board, only two of its leaders were openly gay, and the organization’s 300-member roster was hidden under layers of secrecy. Slurs were commonplace, often justified as natural consequence of the chaos on the trading room floor. Some gay employees even placed borrowed family portraits on their desks, hoping to create the illusion of a happy, heterosexual marriage.
Over time, though, Wall Street has undergone a radical transformation. Morgan Stanley, once scandalized by a 1998 discrimination scandal, won the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality award in 2009, and has held special conferences to discuss LGBT issues in the workplace. Progress at this firm and others means that many closet doors have opened. Today, Wall Street’s leading LGBT organization has over 30 people on its leadership board, the majority of whom occupy director-level or higher positions at their respective banks.
As the culture on Wall Street changes, so too does the climate at Yale, where around 15 percent of seniors will enter finance, consulting or similar industries after graduation. Statistically speaking, Bajtos is far from the only gay Yalie to aspire to these professions. Meanwhile, firms are looking outward to meet him: targeting LGBT undergrads in an attempt to dispel old stereotypes. Firms host special recruitment events, subsidize cocktail hours and organize elaborate internal mentorship programs, all of which have become increasingly public in recent years. A single aim unites these efforts: to convince applicants that the glass ceiling has shattered once and for all.
Ten years ago, the homophobia of the professional world was palpable on campus, said Maria Trumpler, GRD ’92, the director of Yale’s Office of LGBTQ Resources. Trumpler, a senior lecturer in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, taught at Yale in the late 1990s before leaving for other endeavors, eventually rejoining the faculty in 2006. As she sat in her office in the newly established LGBTQ resource center in Swing Space, Trumpler recalled that in past years many gay students would approach her for counseling, worried that their sexuality would limit their job prospects: “Can I still look the way I do, can I still be queer in some visible way and still do the profession I want to do?” they would ask. Even organizations now considered liberal, like Teach for America, once provoked anxiety in some LGBT applicants, she explained.
As time passed, companies became aware that they needed to do “more than have a non-discrimination policy” to retain minority workers, Trumpler said, explaining that that She toward inclusivity was in part prompted by an increased amount of cultural acceptance. Trumpler cited the example of popular comedian Ellen DeGeneres, whose 1997 Time cover announced, “Yep, I’m gay,” and encouraged millions of Americans to reconsider their preconceived notions about LGBT people. Positive mainstream media representation, like the Time cover, helped chip away at the confusion and fear that often drive homophobic sentiment.
Beyond public shame in the wake of shifting social attitudes, firms also feared an exodus of LGBT employees. On Wall Street, preparing new hires is expensive. The New York Times has reported that at least 20 major banks, including Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, contract with for-profit training “boot camps,” which can charge as much as 1,499 dollars per participating analyst. Expenses like these make each worker a serious investment.
To make good on those costs, firms began to focus on retention, attempting to address issues of culture that once drove away LGBT workers. This soul-searching led to one critical organizational development: affinity networks for gay and lesbian employees. These networks—which grouped together workers of a shared minority status—were already in use to target women and racial minorities, helping these professionals navigate unique issues encountered due to their race or gender. Now LGBT-specific networks are standard at the vast majority of Wall Street firms, and serve a similar function.
At McKinsey, it’s called GLAM, for gay, lesbian, bi, and trans At McKinsey. Its website features effusive anonymous testimonials: “The London global GLAM conference was beyond inspirational…It was life- changing. It’s changed my McKinsey,” one worker gushes in a quote. Bain calls it BGLAD, the Bain Gay and Lesbian Association for Diversity, which boasts an internal mentorship program and bustling events calendar.
When Ethan Karetsky, CC ’14, started at Bain this past summer as an intern, the firm assigned him a mentor—someone higher up in the company to answer his questions and give him advice. Bain matches every intern with a mentor, but Karetsky’s participation with BGLAD gave him an additional source of support: a colleague involved with the LGBT community that could serve the same role. “It was nice to be introduced to that community and attend BGLAD events,” he said. “It gave me connections I might have not gotten otherwise,” he explained, adding that there “was definitely a cohesion” in the LGBT community at Bain.
The promise of positive experiences like these can be a powerful marketing tool for firms. Affinity networks have encouraged today’s LGBT Yalies to explore an industry in ways their 1990s equivalents would not have considered, Trumpler said.
“Being LGBT friendly is just good business,” claims Lia Parifax, a lawyer and longtime gay rights activist who was profiled by former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank in the March issue of Vanity Fair. Parifax, a self-identified straight ally, is Chief Operating Officer of Coda Leadership, a consulting firm that helps corporations navigate various diversity- related concerns. Most central to Coda’s concept of diversity is sexual orientation. Every year, the firm partners with Out on the Street, a leading organization of LGBT industry leaders, to organize an executive leadership summit.
One new approach to workplace inclusivity, Parifax explained, is an emerging focus on the “return on investment” for firms that support LGBT rights. At Coda, that’s called the “return on equality,” and it’s a phenomenon that drives much of the organization’s work, she explained. The vantage point transforms issues of social justice, like gay marriage and anti- discrimination law, into aspects of what Parifax calls “business development strategy.” It’s also the driving force behind the Out on the Street summit. The organization’s various studies and white papers, each available for free online, emphasize the benefits companies gain from LGBT-friendly policies: increased productivity; improved employee retention; a wider recruitment pool. More so than hearts and minds, the approach is meant to appeal to pocketbooks.
Back in her office at Yale, Trumpler said she worries there’s a dark side to this focus on profitability. She fears consulting firms perceive gays and lesbians as “exploitable” workers, preferring gay applicants merely because they are less likely to marry young or have biological children, and thus making them less risky financial investments than young heterosexual hires. “That may have been true 15-plus years ago, but it’s not true anymore,” Gabe Seidman, CC ‘11, a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group, said in reference to that fear of exploitation. Seidman oversees BCG’s LGBT recruitment efforts at both his alma mater and Princeton. “When we’re recruiting out of undergrad, our hires are 20, 21 years old,” Seidman said; at that age, he emphasized, few young people want to start a family.
For Seidman, the real benefits of recruitment lie with the applicant, not the firm. “The reason [our] LGBT network exists is because there are specific questions that pertain to LGBT-identified people…[and] it’s important those questions are answered accurately,” he explained. “All of those questions are really a non-issue. You can be out, you can be out to your clients… but people don’t know about that as a college junior, and frankly that was not always the culture of consulting.”
Reputational concerns are yet another incentive to recruit. Some gay rights organizations are quick to laud LGBT-friendly firms. The Human Rights Campaign publishes an annual “Corporate Equality Index” that uses criteria like “employment benefits,” “responsible citizenship,” and organizational competency to measure the LGBT-friendliness of Fortune 500 companies. In 2013, 33 firms in the banking and financial services industry earned top marks, compared with eight in pharmaceuticals, four in telecommunications, and just one in apparel and textiles (the denim retailer Levi Strauss). Barclays, Deloitte, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, and Morgan Stanley all boast scores of 100 percent. That level of inclusivity is unseen in most other industries.
On Wall Street, support for LGBT rights typically also translates into support for gay marriage. Even leaders at the highest level of business aren’t shy about showing it. In 2012, Lloyd Blankfein, Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs, made headlines when he became the fist “corporate spokesman” for the HRC. “[Gay marriage] is a business issue,” he said in a May CBS Moneywatch interview. “It’s a civil rights issue, but it’s also a business issue.”
Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America, is another notable public supporter of LGBT causes. In his public engagements, Moynihan has framed issues of LGBT equality in terms of finance’s meritocratic culture. At the 2012 Out on the Street summit, he described Bank of America as a place where someone of any sexuality “can come in, be yourself, be successful, be all you want to be.”
These types of endorsements can have tangible impacts on public policy, Parifax said. She said that Wall Street firms have played “integral” roles in many recent strides in LGBT rights, like the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Supreme Court struck down in July. “Our government is going to listen most to business,” she said. “It’s that sort of sponsorship, advocacy, and visibility that’s meaningfully affecting the lives of LGBT people.”
At selective universities like Yale, some financial firms hold special events to target LGBT applicants. Some offer in-person meetings with interested candidates. “Bain likes to do coffee-chats at Blue State, for example,” said Karetsky, who helped with campus events and recruiting interns this academic year. Receptions, held separately from mainstream recruitment meetings, are also popular. BCG’s LGBT group, for example, hosted an evening cocktail reception for gay Yalies interested in learning more about post-graduation opportunities last September. That November, McKinsey’s GLAM network invited LGBT juniors to a reception in the home of Bryce Hall, SOM ’12, an associate at the firm, just a short walk from campus.
Events like these can offer LGBT students an intimacy that’s otherwise elusive in a recruitment ritual that often involves impersonal panels in crowded reception rooms at upscale hotels. This year, over 80 Yale juniors attended McKinsey’s general interest information session at the Study, and the conference room was filled to capacity. But Hall’s event had only eight Facebook RSVPs.
“Our events are specifically designed to be of a more personal nature,” Hall told me in an email. He said the event tried to welcome all LGBT students, even those without demonstrated interest in consulting. Ultimately, he explained, its purpose was to educate. “LGBT recruiting can bring up sensitive topics and we want to ensure that candidates feel comfortable being able to openly address [them],” Hall added.
“It’s important that Bain and a lot of these other companies make themselves accessible as possible,” Karetsky explained. “They really try to make an effort to be available to applicants and make them comfortable.” He said that while the application process can sometimes seem like a black box, simply having someone to talk through the process with can make the difference for applicants.
In addition to events in New Haven and similar college towns, some companies recruit off-campus, hosting daylong outreach summits in their New York offices. As with affinity groups, similar programs target members of other underrepresented minorities. Blackstone, for instance, invites “future women leaders” to its daylong networking summit, while Barclays offers a Dec. “boot camp” for underrepresented racial minorities. Morgan Stanley even hosts programs for war veterans.
Among these offerings, LGBT-specific opportunities abound. In the fall of his junior year, Bajtos applied to two such programs: JPMorgan’s “Proud to Be” and the “Pride Summit” at Goldman Sachs. He attended both. “This was them trying to sell us their organization,” he recalled.
The events taught Bajtos that the cultures of the firms were different. He described JPMorgan as laidback and Goldman, with its “14-hour workdays,” as more intense. But both summits were similar in their structure, Bajtos said. Each day began with an overview of the particular firm, and concluded with time for networking and career advice. “They’re prepping us for our interviews,” he explained.
In fact, several other resources exist for LGBT students eager to master the specialized technical interviews that business internship applicants must undergo during the recruitment process. Both BCG and McKinsey, for example, have mentorship networks that match gay applicants with current consultants for mock interviews.
Bajtos rejects the perception that these programs constitute a form of affirmative action. “The only advantage they give you is a networking advantage,” he said. He said he believes his participation at the summits may help him secure a later internship or job, but only because he made a “huge” effort to “go out of his way” at each event. Fortune— at least in finance—favors only the bold.
Bajtos said he wants more of his peers to take advantage of these resources. Last semester, he started EnterPride, an organization for LGBT pre-professionals on Yale’s campus. According to its constitution, the group aims to “serve as an educational resource for LGBT undergraduates…[to] learn about and engage with various industries [while] out in the workplace.” Bajtos was inspired by similar groups at other universities, particularly the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Alliance, the nation’s first such organization at the undergraduate level.
EnterPride’s success, like the success of any campus group, will depend on its ability to meet the needs of Yale undergraduates. To Bajtos, that means a mix of programming, including guest speakers, dinners, and a mentorship program staffed by students from Q+, the organization for gay students at the School of Management. But sexual orientation need not be the subject of every event. Conversations about out life in the workplace are important, Bajtos said—“but that’s not something we need to talk about all the time.”
At wealthy colleges with left-leaning student bodies, groups like EnterPride and the Wharton Alliance are ubiquitous. But according to Baylee Feore, the executive director of Out for Undergrad, other campuses can be less accepting than the Ivy League’s.
Her organization attempts to fill that resource gap. Founded in 2004, Out for Undergrad hosts three career conferences for LGBT undergraduates across the country. Feore herself graduated from UPenn in 2010, and was instrumental in establishing IvyQ, now a popular annual conference for queer students in the Ivy League. Out for Undergrad’s mission is more populist. Feore says her organization tries to achieve school diversity among its attendees, using university affiliation as just one of many factors in its admissions decisions.
Out for Undergrad’s conferences attract a healthy contingent of Yalies annually. Celine Cuevas, TD ’15, attended two of its conferences over the past year. She said the most popular event offered is the Out for Undergrad Business Conference, which is geared toward finance and consulting. A computer science major, Cuevas spent last summer working at Redfin, an online real estate brokerage firm, and will return this summer as a project management intern in the company’s San Francisco office. Although she said she’s certain of her desire to work in the tech industry, she attended the business conference to explore other potential career options.
Lucky for students like Cuevas, Out for Undergrad also hosts Out for Technology. Held in Silicon Valley, the conference focuses on careers in science, technology and mathematics. That industry has been “traditionally open to people who don’t fit in,” Cuevas explained. She questioned the need for an event that specifically targets LGBT students in that field, saying that the tech industry, for the most part, is “not about who you date or what you do with your weekends.”
Eric Partridge, a research associate at the Yale Center for Molecular Discovery, disagrees. A longtime activist for LGBT people in the sciences, Partridge explained that there has been “virtually no pressure” to achieve LGBT equality in his industry. “Every faculty interaction I have, I have to wonder if they devalue me because I’m visibly out,” he said.
In 2005, Partridge founded an organization called Out in Science, Technology, and Mathematics, known as oSTEM, for LGBT professionals in STEM fields. Today, oSTEM has more than 50 campus-based chapters across the country, as well as a conference of its own. Alex Co, MC ’15, a chemistry major, was the outreach chair of Yale’s group last semester. He describes the organization’s resources as valuable, but would prefer if his chapter were “less inactive.” Still, despite his interest in the sciences, Co said he wishes he had attended business conferences like Out for Undergrad’s, as those opportunities could have led to valuable networking connections he now wishes he had. “Queer people tend to clump together and have stronger support networks through their common struggles,” he explained.
Of all the common struggles Co describes, one of most troubling to gay rights activists is employment discrimination. Currently, employers in 29 states, including Texas and Florida, can fire workers for being gay, but proponents of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) hope to bring that number to zero. ENDA, which would provide federal protection against workplace discrimination, passed the Senate 64-32 in November. Yet opposition from House Speaker John Boehner and other House Republications will likely guarantee defeat in ENDA’s immediate future.
An organization of pro-ENDA businesses, called the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness, counts Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase among its members. But while Wall Street workers might be concerned about ENDA’s future, they needn’t worry for themselves; their employers are the ones going to bat for the bill. After all, the men and women of what was once Wall Street’s “secret society” are now out and proud, and they’re hosting almost every kind of event imaginable: cocktail receptions and recruitment sessions, networking events and happy hours, even conferences. Over the summer, on the day the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, one intern told me that New York office of Credit Suisse held a “big party.”
Given this new culture, what form should the future of LGBT workplace activism take? Some interviewees perceived its future as one of increasing intersectionality. Cuevas, for example, expressed concern that the current focus on LGBT issues might obscure other causes, like issues of socioeconomic access at play in the recruitment process. oSTEM’s Partridge referenced a related concern, explaining that efforts to promote LGBT inclusivity can often overlook transgender individuals. “There’s just not enough data out there, and this speaks to the need for more resources and more data,” he said.
According to Seidman, the BCG consultant, affinity groups are often uniquely poised to address the unexpected challenges can result from achieving victories of greater social equality. One example he cites concerns the expansion of McKinsey’s geographic network. Gay consultants once exclusively chose offices in liberal urban environments, but now these employees might opt to move to Texas or even Southeast Asia, he explained. “[There are] different challenges to being out in Kuala Lumpur…[and] in San Francisco,” Seidman said. Now, at firm-wide LGBT events, these workers can end up talking past one another, which challenges leaders to offer more creative and universally applicable programming.
Programming is also on the mind of Bajtos, who has spent the past semester balancing his own internship applications with the needs of his burgeoning campus group. As he progresses along the recruitment pipeline, he’ll likely encounter more mentors and resources. Some of them, he conceded, will be accessible to him due to his sexuality. Still, he believes there will always be a need for LGBT recruitment, both at Yale and within the world at large. “One kid mentioned at OUBC that he had never been in a room with more than two gay people. That blew my mind,” he recalled. Things get better, he added, but the issue will never disappear.