Same sex in the City - gay life in the financial sector

banker March 2nd, 2009

You could be forgiven for thinking that the closest the banking world gets to being queer-friendly is printing the Financial Times on pink paper, writes Kaite Welsh. After all, it’s known for its laddish atmosphere and cutthroat environment.

But things are beginning to change. Stonewall’s 2009 ‘Top 100 Employers’ list included ten companies located in a certain square mile of London not normally noted for its diversity and tolerance.

And for one woman, the finance world represented a welcome change from the homophobia she had previously experienced in the workplace.

After she married her partner in a civil ceremony prior to the civil partnership laws being introduced, ‘Rachel’ (not her real name) discovered that her employers refused to acknowledge her newly double barrelled surname - even her wages were paid to her original name.

She was subjected to homophobic abuse from her female boss both to her face and behind her back, and lost her job in the next round of redundancies.

Then she joined finance company KPMG, who have a diversity group called Breathe, and hasn’t looked back since.

Economic crisis aside, it seems that the rest of the world can still learn a thing or two from the banking industry. Right? Well, perhaps.

Gender and sexual orientation

A 2006 study suggested that gay and bisexual women working in the City were less likely to come out than their male counterparts. Lapdancing clubs are still popular venues for company social events, and only 11% of FTSE directors are women.

Last month, Harriet Harman revealed that women in the City are still earning up to 40% less than their male colleagues – nearly double the national average gender pay gap of 22.6%. According to Harman, “huge bonuses for city bosses are not the only thing wrong with pay in the financial services industry…The ‘gender pay gap’ in financial services is worse than in manufacturing, retail, or any other sector.”

Whilst tolerance and diversity are encouraged within the industry in some areas, in others the LGBT community are still vastly underrepresented and unsupported.

A number of groups, both at grassroots level and ones organised by banks themselves, have been set up to counter discrimination and make their workplaces more inclusive environments - for example, the LGBT Interbank Forum have a regular drinks night, with the aim of “supporting a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender space in the City.”

The forum was set up by a number of high profile banks such as Barclays and Goldman Sachs who, among other things, have sponsored the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

However, no mention is made of the fact that these events are largely geared towards men. There is a separate wing of the forum, the Gay Women’s Network, aimed at lesbians – presumably bisexual women are welcome but this is not specified, and there is no mention of transwomen.

Losing staff

It is clear that the main diversity issue that still needs to be addressed in the finance world is one of gender and not sexual orientation. Although by all accounts the GWN is a supportive environment for gay women, its lower profile compared to the rest of the Interbank group – and the fact that it warrants a separate group at all – suggests that there is still some way to go when it comes to incorporating gay and bisexual women into diversity models.

Banks are becoming increasingly aware that if they do not tackle the problem, they are liable to lose talented, motivated staff who leave in favour of a more welcoming workplace.

Barclays Wealth has signed up to the Fawcett Charter, “a coalition of leading employers committed to promoting an inclusive work environment by challenging the objectification of women at work”, part of the Sexism in the City campaign run by feminist campaigners the Fawcett Society.

There are event LGBT-specific careers fairs for those considering a career in the City that offer lesbian-specific panels – Inside & Out and OUT in the City have both been widely attended, not only by students considering a career in banking but by those already established in the profession.

Networking organisation Citypink started in 2004 as a way for gay women working in banking to network both professionally and socially, and now runs events in Leicester and Nottingham as well as London. They do not only organise social events – they have monthly networking drinks at a private members club on Adam Street – they also raise money for Stonewall.

It seems that the atmosphere in the City is changing, and about time too. Because if you’re considering a career in banking these days, you’ve got bigger things to worry about than your sexuality.


  • Ooh, that’s pretty interesting stuff…

    Cathryn ∼ March 3rd, 2009 10:28 am
  • It’s always disappointing to see those payscale gaps in black and white, but I do like the hopeful tone of this article where other things are concerned. Interesting.

    Jennifer ∼ March 3rd, 2009 4:47 pm

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