Monday, April 09, 2007

An email from a gay reader starting a career in investment banking

About three weeks ago, I got the e-mail below in my inbox. Apologies to the reader who sent it to me because I usually manage to answer Dear GB emails quicker than this.

Dear GB,

I am not a regular reader of your blog, rather I came upon it by accident while searching for something gay to do on a Monday night in Singapore. I am a student in Boston, but I am visiting Singapore because I studied here a year ago and was on a trip to China and figured I couldn't pass up the chance to see the place again. Life can be quite a coincidence at times, can't it?

I am writing you because next summer, I too will become a gay investment banker as I enter the analyst training program for a major investment bank. I will eventually work as an analyst in origination in NYC, and am graduating from my university in May with my undergraduate degree. None of this is particularly relevant to my question, so I won't continue boring you with the details.

You have written about the difficulties of being out to your co-workers, and I started thinking about many things as I read your entries. Coming out wasn't a difficult process for me, I had always admitted personally to myself that I was gay but it just wasn't the "right time" for me to come out. When I got to college, within a month I just decided to start living "gay" and have been out ever since. I am in a fraternity (I hope you know what this is, think the movie "Animal House"), which is the most heterosexually charged environment you can find short of the American military, and all my fraternity brothers knew I was gay from the day I came out. The universal acceptance (and the occasional curiosity...hehe) I received was overwhelming. The one difficulty was the relationship with my family, and this is what encouraged me to write to you today.

My family has been unbelievably loving and accepting of me since I came out to them, but I didn't come out to my family until more that 2 years after I first did it at my university. I just couldn't face their (potential) rejection, so I held it in. For the first two and a half years of my college experience, I lived a dual life. I spent weekends partying in West Hollywood with friends and spent weekdays dodging questions about girlfriends from my parents. I really didn't enjoy this kind of lifestyle; it felt so contrived and made me upset and unhappy with myself. The problem is, I can see this happening again as I enter i-banking.

Granted, one situation dealt with the rejection of people I loved and the other is with my co-workers. It isn't the rejection that scares me, rather the aspect of potentially reliving the whole "dual-life" scenario. I am curious about your feelings on this, and perhaps you can elaborate on some of your experiences of being gay while working in an i-bank.

I apologize if my email was too long and ultimately somewhat open ended, but I would greatly appreciate any comments or insight you can give.

All the best to you, and I look forward to your future entries.


I've said various things about this before, including a few comments in one of my earliest postings. Also, as I said in my relatively recent posting about conversational evasion techniques, I think one of the most important things is to avoid telling lies. However as a general statement, I don't think it's necessary for a gay guy to pretend that he's straight in investment banking these days.

In that posting about Conversational evasion techniques, I tell a short story about when I was asked whether I was married at a bank Christmas party in the early 1990's. What I didn't put in that posting was the fact that the following year, I came out to my boss when I was asked to work in Singapore for a few months. And the view that my boss took then would be even more appropriate in today's litigious world.

I was deeply worried about whether I was damaging my career, but my boss had other concerns. He didn't care at all about my sexuality, instead he was worried about what his responsibilities were, and what the legal situation was in terms of how I should be treated. That was all in the early 1990's, and although I didn't have any problems, some banks were known for their homophobia.

I heard of cases in the 1990's where banks did sack employees who worked on the trading floor and who came out as gay. And I have to say that there is one sense in which I think that sacking such an employee could be appropriate. To succeed in that kind of high-energy fast-moving environment one has to focus on the financial markets, and what one's role is. So coming out as gay and making a big thing about it shows that you've got other things at the front of your mind. Banks always want the best, most business focussed people working on their trading floors, so almost by definition if someone is putting their sexuality before their job when they're at work, then someone else may be capable of doing their job better.

However I'm sure that in the 1990's some guys were sacked because the news that there was a gay employee on the trading floor was causing other people to lose focus on their jobs, and sacking someone in that situation is unacceptable homophobia. In the UK and the European Union these days, I believe there are laws in place to prevent this kind of action, however I'm not sure what the legal situation is in the USA. Another encouraging fact, of course, is that these days banks have networks that encourage social contact between gay employees.

Whatever the legal situation, it's now 2007, and my advice these days is simply to be completely relaxed and honest about being gay. Don't publicly come out to everyone, it's not what you're there for, just behave in exactly the same kind of way that your straight colleagues do. Actually a good idea can be to work out who the people are who like gossiping and make sure that one of them finds out that you're gay. In that way everyone else will quickly find out without you having to tell everyone, and then you can really relax and focus on your job.

A lot of the business scancals in recent years, such as accounting fraud and banks being sued for over-hyping tech stocks, all relate to a lack of honesty. As a result bankers need to be painfully honest in their business dealings these days, so matching that with equivalent honesty relating to one's private life seems highly appropriate.

Anyway, I wish the reader good luck with his career. Do any other readers have any other thoughts on this matter?

4 comments:

A rebel all the way... said...

As a gay guy who will soon be entering into the world of financial markets and investment banking, I, too, am confronted with 'coming out' issues. But I haven't yet come out to my family and friends (except a couple of really close friends), and I don't intend to either. So letting it be known at my bank that I am gay is simply out of question. Not because I am scared (though I would be lying if I say thats not a concern at all), but the primary reason is that none of my colleagues should be concerned with what goes on in my personal life. It is none of their business. Having said that, I perfectly agree when you say that a gay guy is, normally, more preoccupied with his being gay and *might* not be able to fully devote himself to his work. But I will try my best to seperate the two.
So my advice to the person who has written the letter is to go ahead and try to seperate your professional and personal lives. It is not always easy, but atleast give it a shot.
I have been a student myself for the last 23 years, and will be entering into 'work life' for the first time (ignoring the internships et al). So my perspective, unlike GB's, is not based on experience.
And GB, have a lot to learn from you and your experiences. Soon, there will be one more addition to the 'drinks evenings for gay london bankers'. :)

Sir Wobin said...

I'm out at work. I don't make a coming out speech but I don't hesitate to mention the husband at the first natural moment. That said, I do take care not to be perceived as gay during interviews. Once I'm through the door, I feel that the toughest hurdles have been overcome. As a coworker they pretty much have to accept me. If they don't accept me and interact on a professional level, they're the one that looks bad.

No one ever has to like you regardless of your job, sexuality or any other reason. Some people will like you, some won't and you can't control the situation perfectly forever.

If nothing else, long term exposure to openly gay men should desensitise some homophobic people. Doesn't some homophobic fear grow from fear of the unknown? Haven't 50 years of coming out, pride parades and making ourselves known made it easier and easier to just be ourselves? Each new generation has to keep up the awareness or we will become unknown feared creatures once more.

We must come out if we want to keep the freedom we have, but there's a lot to say for choosing one's timing carefully.

Anonymous said...

Since the author of the email is pursung a career in the U.S., I'd like to point out the great resources available from the Human Rights Campaign (www.hrc.org). This includes HRC's annual Corporate Equality survey which most likely lists the larger investment banks. While the HRC survey won't speak to a manager or division's attitude, it will give an overall picture of the company.

Anonymous said...

I was at a couple of events this year for people applying to IB in London. They had a number of out bankers speaking, and they made the point that the banks want the most profitable workers they can find. If they don't support a profitable worker, you'll go somewhere else.

The approach they encouraged was simply to be open about it, without making a big deal. One of the guys said that when the boss asked about whether he had a girlfriend, he just casually said no, and no boyfriend either.

Another talked about chatting on a Monday morning, everyone talking about their weekend, and just casually saying they were out with their boyfriend/partner. No one else made a big deal about it, and neither did they.

The one major point they did make was that if you have to spend the whole day watching what you say to avoid coming out, you wont be able to concentrate fully on getting the job done.

I think the original poster from America should just 'be out', when he starts, rather than worrying about making a big deal about 'coming out'.