LGBTQ advisers and clients would welcome this approach

It's easy to say "we tolerate everybody," but here are actionable suggestions for fostering a more inclusive workplace

Jun 28, 2018 @ 3:00 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

Even for firms that have embraced the value of increasing diversity, making the workplace LGBTQ-friendly has an added challenge of visibility.

Unlike gender and race, sexual orientation isn't as visibly obvious and probably wouldn't come up in the course of interviewing someone for a job. It can be difficult for straight people to know what they can do to make a financial advice firm more welcoming to LGBTQ advisers or clients beyond saying, "who cares?" or "we accept everyone for who they are."

If there indeed was a "no one cares" philosophy, the industry would be more diverse than it currently is, said Lule Demmissie, managing director of investment products and retirement at TD Ameritrade, at a recent event in New York City focused on LGBTQ people in fintech. There are still small, everyday biases that add up to make LGBTQ people feel like they are not welcomed by the investing world.

"We have to explore what's going on here," said Ms. Demmissie, an open member of the LGBTQ community. "I resist every day waking up and wanting to think of myself as different because I know that spends a lot of calories that I could be spending on either designing a product or forming a new strategy of investing in the people I work with … But I have to tell you, it's exhausting and incredibly lonely."

Firm leadership needs to be willing to listen to the complaints or suggestions from LGBTQ colleagues and have potentially uncomfortable conversations about how to improve workplace culture, experts at the panel said.

Beyond ensuring internal HR documents include non-discrimination language around sexual orientation and gender identity, Steve Branton, an LGBTQ adviser at San Francisco-based Mosaic Financial Partners, said there's more a firm can do to foster a more inclusive culture.

(More: How advisers can take advantage of new financial opportunities with LGBT clients)

For example, firms can offer training on issues specific to gay investors, such as financial planning for domestic partnerships. Additionally, funds can be specified for education and marketing for any advisers who are interested in reaching out to the LGBTQ community, he said.

For openly gay advisers, senior leadership should introduce them to any other LGBTQ professionals that work with the firm.

"This was a great experience for me when my straight CEO introduced me to all of his LGBTQ estate attorneys over a series of lunches," Mr. Branton said.

Even a small office celebration for pride month can go a long way letting employees know they are welcomed by the firm.

"My first year here, they did a pride cake. It was very heartwarming," Mr. Branton said.

As for reaching LGBTQ clients, advisers can make sure onboarding documents provide space for domestic partnerships, civil unions or gay marriages. Using terms like "spouse" instead of "husband and wife" can avoid leaving a bad taste in prospects' mouths.

(More:From collecting autographs to advising LGBTs)

Advisers also should be mindful of their own assumptions about traditional families and heirs.

"Gay couples sometimes don't have children, so the estate planning conversations can be quite different, particularly if there are difficult family of origin dynamics at play," Mr. Branton said.

Finally, financial advice practices can periodically include content geared towards LGBTQ investors in their marketing newsletters or blogs. And if a firm wants to better connect with high-net-worth LGBTQ clients, it could be beneficial to have a staff member join a local advocacy group that supports LGBTQ causes. Mr. Branton said it's a good way to meet and network with other important local professionals.

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