Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but last night, while the eyes of the Wall Street media were still focused on Goldman Sachs' sex-discrimination suit, the American Foundation for Equal Rights--the group that spearheaded the battle to fight California's gay marriage ban--held a fundraising benefit in Midtown Manhattan, and executives from KKR, Blackstone, Carlyle Group, Goldman Sachs and others from the investment banking, hedge fund and private equity industries were in attendance to support the organization.
Such a public display of affection for the rights of gay and lesbians is a complete about-face by the upper echelons of the finance industry compared to how they dealt with this issue just a few years ago.
In Vault's annual Banking Survey, administered each spring for more than a decade, we have asked professionals in the industry to comment on their firm's diversity efforts with respect to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, as well as with respect to women and minorities. It wasn't too long ago that a majority of those surveyed would respond to the GLBT question with, at best, "no comment," while freely providing scores of information about diversity efforts with respect to women and ethnic minorities. In addition, even when we did receive a comment, and a positive comment at that, about a firm's GLBT diversity, the commenter, more times than not, did not wish to go on record; to boot, PR heads of firms continually lobbied for the removal (from the survey write-up) of any mention of GLBT diversity--even if their firm was painted in a very positive light.
In the past couple of years, however, this has been changing. We now receive just as many (or almost as many) comments about GLBT hiring practices as we do about women and ethnic minority practices. And PR representatives are now more than happy to highlight their efforts to hire and accommodate GLBT individuals.
This doesn't mean, of course, that the finance industry (or America's other corporations in other industries) have come close to embracing gay and lesbian rights in the workplace, but we have come a long way, paving the way for top-ranking executives, such as Ken Mehlman, a partner at KKR, perhaps the most well known private equity firm on the planet, to come out and speak their minds.
Last week, Mehlman (who, prior to joining KKR, ran George Bush's reelection campaign in 2004), publicly acknowledged his homosexuality. In an interview, he told The Atlantic, “Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.”
Kudos, Mr. Mehlman, and here's (glass raised) to hoping that your courage will inspire other current and future professionals, as well as encourage current and future corporations to take an increased pride in the individualities of their employees.