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Wall Street's Secret Society

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"When I'm on the desk, I hear not-nice things about people who are suspected of being gay: 'Get me that faggot on the line.'. . . I've never heard any racial slurs on the trading desk, and though you hear things about women, they never say anything when I'm around. People have been trained to know better.

"There is progress," she adds. "You don't see strippers on the trading floor anymore as 'birthday presents' for traders, as there were in the early nineties. But the culture of the swashbuckling trader is definitely still there."

Personally, she admits, she has little incentive to push for lasting change at the firm, since she isn't committed to spending her entire career there, as most of her straight colleagues are.

"I don't foresee a career on Wall Street," she says. "I took the job to pay off my student loans. The money's been great for a while, but it's too oppressive an environment for me to stay here." Instead, she hopes to start a second career, related to public service.

That's not an uncommon ambition: In a field where it's possible to earn enough in a few years to retire in your forties, Wall Street gays often pack up their windfalls and start new lives in philanthropic or political causes. aids organizations and gay-rights groups like the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force are also supported by large pools of Wall Street money.

In recent years, in part because of the threat of lawsuits like Joe Daniel's, dozens of firms have taken steps to officially ban discrimination against gays and lesbians. According to the Human Rights Campaign, New York-based firms that officially ban discrimination include the Equitable, Citigroup (which includes Travelers and Salomon Smith Barney), Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and PaineWebber.

American Express, Bankers Trust, Chase Manhattan, J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch, and Scudder Kemper also offer domestic-partnership benefits for the partners of gay employees.

In 1998, a gay financial writer named Grant Lukenbill helped start a service called the Equality Project, which surveys financial firms and Fortune 500 companies on their workplace policies toward gay and lesbian employees. The group's Website (www.equalityproject.org) lists companies that meet its seven requirements, which include diversity training as well as domestic-partner benefits and explicit anti-gay-discrimination policies.

Of the New York-based financial firms, only four make the list: American Express, J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch, and Bankers Trust. (Out-of-town firms on the list: BankAmerica in Charlotte, Charles Schwab in San Francisco, and BankBoston.) In any case, even Lukenbill admits that stated policies sometimes don't make much of a difference. "Some of the companies with the best policies," he says, "have people with the worst anecdotal examples to the contrary."

While Bear Stearns does have an official anti-discrimination policy, its existence is news to chairman Alan "Ace" Greenberg. "I don't think we need one," he says. "I think it's clear that we wouldn't tolerate that kind of thing. All we look for is smart, hungry people who want to be rich. I don't give a damn what they do at home. We don't discriminate against anybody," he jokes. "We even hire Jews!"

Despite official advances, most gay Wall Streeters feel it's still too risky to venture out. "My manager doesn't have a problem with gays, but what about my next manager?" asks an experienced broker at one of the biggest firms, who believes his bosses could fire him at will without worrying about discrimination charges. They could simply claim that he didn't meet performance goals, since every year he's required to agree to new accounts and greater assets -- incredibly high targets that only a tiny percentage of brokers actually attain. "They've always got that over you," he explains. "I'm constantly seeing people fired."

Those who are openly gay outside work worry about colleagues' finding out. One broker at a small, stuffy, conservative firm agreed to be filmed for a documentary about a gay march, but he was wary when the producers said they wanted to show the film in a city where he had clients. After much prodding, they agreed to run it only in regions where he had no clients, so the identification of his homosexuality wouldn't hurt his business. "My clientele is 99 percent heterosexual," he explains. "They're high-net-worth individuals, very well-off, and a lot of them are conservative in their political views."


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