How the Financial Services Industry Is Becoming More LGBTQ+ Inclusive

By |2021-08-25T11:37:41-04:00August 25th, 2021|Michigan, National, News|

Jason Porter is confident he can bring his “whole self” to work. Porter, who is gay and has worked in the financial services industry for 15 years, said that wasn’t always the case. 

Before he began working at Bank of America, Porter said he was a little reserved about bringing his “whole self” to work. “I will say, from the start of my own employment here at Bank of America, I really never had that reservation,” he said. “I never felt as if I couldn’t come and discuss things about, maybe, my husband or my family.”

Today, Porter serves as regional chair of Bank of America’s LGBT Pride Employee Network, an Employee Resource Group (ERG). ERGs are made up of groups of employees who join together in their workplace based on shared community to achieve shared workplace goals through activities like recruitment, professional development and charitable work. 

The financial services industry, like other industries, has modernized. BTL spoke with several professionals to explore how and why the industry’s relationship with LGBTQ+ clients and employees has changed. We looked at what’s specific to the financial services industry and what reflects the evolution of workplaces across the board.   

Bank of America’s LGBT Pride Employee Network reflects an ongoing evolution in the financial services industry when it comes to its relationship with LGBTQ+ clients and employees. Other financial services providers, like Comerica Bank, are shining new light on issues like diversity and outreach. 

LaToya Rowell, vice president and community affairs manager at Comerica, described that company’s “business resource group (BRG)” approach, which she said was started around 30 years ago. BRGs, Rowell said, are external-facing groups that do work in the community and interact with customers and prospects. 

Rowell, whose work focuses on diversity and outreach, described the evolution of the various BRGs at Comerica. “[An] African American group was the first kind of foray into that,” she said, “and they saw the success of having these teams, or having that team, be kind of the face of Comerica in the African American community. Then that opened it up for LGBT, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, South Asian Indian… Asian Pacific Islander.”

Rowell said the growth of Comerica’s LGBT BRG, founded in 2010, “showcases the level of involvement.” 

“It originally started with maybe five or so folks,” she said. “And now, I believe we have up to 30 individuals who are part of our team.” 

“Our teams are really doing great,” Rowell said, noting the work the LGBT BRG has done with community partners like The Ruth Ellis Center. She said the group is “surpassing the amount of business relationships that they’re bringing back to the bank this year versus what they did in 2020.”

“Our respect for diversity permeates everything we do,” adds Jennifer Barrett, vice president and banking center manager. In addition to her role at Comerica, Barret chairs the LGBT&A Michigan Business Resource group.  

ERGs and BRGs are just two examples of how the financial services industry has grown to not merely accept but actively respond to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. At a high level, the financial industry is taking notice of the LGBTQ+ community, with many leading financial institutions extending benefits like parental leave and certain tax benefits to their LGBTQ+ employees. 

The most effective companies, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index, are identified as some of the most LGBTQ-friendly places to work, a designation that also gives insight into where companies land on political causes like the Equality Act

Improving the way financial services professionals interact with their LGBTQ+ clients is another way companies are working on becoming more inclusive. Angelo Rea, senior vice president at Flagstar Bank, explained that employees there are educated about interacting with LGBTQ+ clients. 

Rea said Flagstar’s training focuses on treating LGBTQ+ clients “no differently than anyone else.” “It’s listening to them, understanding them and making them comfortable that our services are available to everyone,” he said. 

Daylight, an exclusively online banking platform, takes a direct approach to reach the LGBTQ+ community. The company bills itself as a safe space for people’s money, offering features like bank cards issued in one’s preferred name, financial coaches who “get it,” and the ability to virtually interact with a community of like-minded customers. 

“Our community has $1 trillion spending power in the US, and yet 53% of LGBT+ people struggle to maintain regular savings,” the Daylight website explains. “We’re done letting the system ignore us. We’re building Daylight around our unique needs: different timelines, different kinds of families, different goals and different futures.”

Overall, Rea said, the financial services industry has become friendlier to the LGBTQ+ community. With 38 years in the industry, most of that time with Flagstar Bank, he sees the progress as the result of a cultural shift. 

“Every lending or financial institution has a D and I (diversity and inclusion) program,” Rea said. “So, I think it is growing. I think it’s the culture that is happening around us: in the media, at work, commercials, marketing tools, television programs. It’s just getting bigger and bigger and stronger.”

Marriage equality likely had an impact on that progress. Rea spoke of his own experience in the human resources department at Flagstar when he got married six years ago when submitting forms to add his spouse to his insurance.

“It was the smoothest transaction,” Rea recalled. “It was the smoothest processing. No multiple questions. No questions asked. It was, ‘OK, this will be adding Michael to this, this, whatever, like insurance, home, health, all that. It was just very smooth and easy.”

Rea acknowledged he did not enter into the process without some trepidation.

“At first, I was nervous about it,” Rea said. “Not that I was embarrassed. I was just nervous. That people, or [the] HR department, would talk, or people would start looking at me differently. None of that happened. It was between HR and myself, business as usual.”

The financial services industry is certainly less traditional than it once was. It wasn’t until 1974 that a woman could secure her own credit card without her husband’s signature. Yet while progress has been made, there’s plenty of room to improve.

In Rea’s experience, his concerns also had to do with how he might be perceived by customers. He said he agreed “somewhat” that the financial services industry may be slower to modernize than other ones.

“I think it was the norm throughout other…companies,” Rea said. “But for the financial industry, I hate to say this, but you know back then it was white shirts, black suits, stiff — you were a banker.” 

Although Rea said he loves working in the financial world, in the past, it was a culture of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“I had to be careful both during work, and I also had to be extremely careful who I hung out with, who my friends were, where I went,” Rea said about his early career in the financial industry. “It was uncomfortable. But that was the lifestyle.” 

Rea’s experience at Flagstar has been strikingly different. Rea had only positive things about working under CEO Sandro DiNello and the spirit of inclusion he brings to the company. “We want to be a company that you’re not afraid to come to work, [where] you’re comfortable and you appreciate and understand the people you work with,” Rea said. “[DiNello has] been promoting that since Day One.”

Going forward, Rea said his generation — the Baby Boomers — and Gen Z have a lot to learn from each other. He mentioned a recent graduate he knows who is seeking employment with a company that has a good diversity and inclusion program, based on what he sees from Flagstar.

“That’s what Flagstar has been teaching us,” Rea said. “To be candid. To be open. Speak out.”

About the Author:

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
Ellen Knoppow is a writer who believes in second acts.