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Top finance firms gather to discuss LGBT issues

British lesbian couple Sue Wilkinson (R) and Celia Kitzinger, who fought for gay marriage in the UK, stand in front of the High Court in London in 2006. In London this week, executives from global financial companies held a summit to discuss how to make work culture more LGBT-friendly.

The LGBT leadership summit for Wall Street by Wall Street went across the pond this week. Leaders from some of the world's largest firms gathered in London to talk about "coming out" in the financial services industry. The event called "Out on the Street" was organized by a former banker turned advocate with this goal: Change work culture in the finance world to be more accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

Ashley Steel is the Vice Chair of KPMG, a company that provides audit and tax services around the world. Steel told the BBC it took her years to come out because when she started working there was a lot of "homophobic conversation" in the halls. "Times have changed," says Steel. "I don't really see any reason, now, why anyone should hide their sexuality."

Peter Murray helped organize an LGBT support network called Connect Out at the global business firm, Arup, in London. "The advice I was given when I joined this firm was just be careful about who you tell. And that was bad advice," says Murray. He adds that fewer than one percent of those working at companies listed on the London stock exchange are openly gay and although times may have changed, those numbers certainly don't reflect that change. 

Murray says it's also important to remember that many of these companies have offices in regions of the world that are openly hostile to gay people. "I think we've got to be careful that we don't take the London experience and say things are alright now, because out in the regions, it may be a different story," says Murray.

Even some Wall Street employees report difficulties coming out at work. But Peter Murray says hiding your identity leads to unhappiness, which leads to poor work performance, and ultimately, he says, that's bad for business.

 

About the author

Shereen Marisol Meraji is a reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.

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