Out on the Street London summit talks ‘return-on equality’ for LGBT friendly businesses

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The second inaugural Out on the Street Europe summit is currently underway in London, this year focusing on how LGBT issues relate globally to corporate leadership and employment.

The Out on the Street summit is currently taking place at KPMG in Canary Wharf, attended by 19 banks as part of its LGBT network.

Members include Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Barclays, HSBC, KKR, Evercore, Credit Suisse, UBS, and KPMG LLP.

The summit started at 10am and is ongoing throughout the rest of the day.

Todd Sears, founder of Out on the Street, opened the event discussing his concept of the “return-on equality” for LGBT friendly companies.

He announced that since the network first launched in 2011 with six banks, it has grown exponentially.

The Wall Street banker also discussed launching just three and half weeks ago in Hong Kong, sponsored by Barclays hosted with a pre-summit dinner by HSBC.

He said it was the “first LGBT business summit in Asia.” Attendees came from across the region, including Japan, Nepal, China, India, Australia, as well as four CEOs and number of chairmen and businessmen speaking.

On the initial challenges of launching in Asia, he said “family and culture” was a concern raised in a pre-summit survey.

“The single-child house policy in China, for example, has significant issues.

“What else I’ve found – and it’s almost the reverse of what’s true in the UK and the US – companies here more employees are out in their private lives than in work. In Asia, it’s the reverse: more employees are out at work than in their private lives.”

However, he said: “One thing was proud of with that summit in particular was that it actually happened. And it was so amazing, we had so much gestation, and people were so excited.”

“The other thing I was proud of is that at the end of the dinner, they actually changed the lighting on the outside of the HSBC Hong Kong Headquarters building – which they have never changed in 35 years – to a rainbow.”

Continuing the discussion, Mr Sears went on to address where he planned to be taking the network next.

He said: “We are framing this from a business perspective; why LGBT equality matters to CEO leaders.

“This is not an HR summit, this is a business leader summit to talk about opportunities and ultimately how businesses can push equality forward.

“One of the things I’m excited about with that is the tone that it sets – what that means,” he added. “About 72% of our participants globally have been managing directorial level or higher – most of them are in revenue precinct positions.”

Talking of the 19 banks currently belonging to the network, he said: “They did not just sign some document or do a little video, they actually attend, they actually speak. They say that this matters, and it matters to their business and clients, and obviously it matters to their employees.”

On the idea of extending the network’s goal in a global market, he said “there’s a subtle and a direct way.”

“One of my hopes by launching in Asia and launching in Hong Kong, and not launching in Singapore was because Singapore and Hong Kong are highly competitive, especially with their financial services.

“But Singapore specifically has a law that makes being gay – not being lesbian – but being gay illegal. So my hope is that Singapore says ‘wait a minute – these 19 financial services interns and CEOs say that this matters, why don’t we get this law off our book so we can better compete with Hong Kong?’

“The more direct approach is when CEOs speak up. Being visible like that, I think, sends a massive message. And I think there’s massive brand risk now for being LGBT un-inclusive.”

He gave the example of the head of the Italian past company Barilla, who was forced to apologise recently after saying he would not include gay people in his advertisements.

“Gays likely are not eating Barilla pasta now,” he added.

Mr Sears also addressed the role of “amicus curiae” briefs in assisting overturning the US Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) earlier this year, saying there is “safety in numbers” when it comes to standing for LGBT equality.

He said: “14 of our banks signed amicus briefs to support the overturn of DOMA, which was fantastic and has never happened before.

“That more than anything is a great example of what we’re doing. It is actually shifting policy outside of what the banks would have traditionally looked at.

“And what we’re actually looking at is a new paradigm for what constitutes a workplace issue. I call it: ‘return-on equality.'”

On specific challenges the network now faces, Mr Sears highlighted trans and bi issues, as well as the “cultural differences” between the UK and the US.

He said: “The bisexual pieces and the transgender pieces are two pieces that companies struggle the most with. Actually our panel today has two transgender women on it.”

“So discussing that whole spectrum is going to be fascinating.

“It is still illegal to be fired in 37 states for being transgender. 29 states you can still be fired for being gay, so there are still massive challenges.

“All of these things come down to coming out and being visible, whether you’re a straight ally, whether you’re gay, or lesbian, or bi, or transgender, that’s what’s accelerated the pace of change.”

The next step for the network, he announced, was the new ‘Out in Law’ to be launched in March 2014.

Out in Law, he said, aimed at collaborating the legal compliance areas of the banks, and well as the general councils, to participate from a legal professional senior perspective in forwarding LGBT equality.

Currently with 11 law firms signed on, Mr Sears said he hoped that as the network continues to grow, it would continue to have opportunities for senior business leaders to get together and discuss issues affecting the LGBT workplace.

He added: “And one of the things I will leave you with, which is exciting, is that a lot of the team leaders who come to our summits to speak are allies, and in my mind that’s incredibly important, because when the majority takes up the rights of the minority, that’s when we have a tipping point.

“That’s how we drive change: actually having senior leaders endorse these issues, and look for opportunities to address these issues, and I think that’s hopefully what we’re giving them with Out on the Street.”