Goldman Sachs Wants to Know if You Are Gay

April 25, 2017, 12:38 PM UTC

Wall Street isn’t necessarily known for being gay-friendly. Yet Goldman Sachs is now asking prospective employees to come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender right when they apply for the job.

After the typical questions about a job applicant’s gender and race, Goldman Sachs(GS) asks candidates to indicate their sexual orientation via a drop-down menu including the choices bisexual, gay man, gay woman, heterosexual, lesbian, other, and “prefer not to say.” Following that, the application also queries: “Please indicate if you identify as Transgender.”

Goldman’s questions—neither of which typically pop up in polite conversation—may seem shocking at first. But it has a reason for asking.

We ask for this data because we want to keep ourselves accountable,” says Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri, Goldman’s chief diversity officer and global head of talent. In other words, she says, the bank wants to make sure it is not unfairly discriminating against LGBT applicants.

Under Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules first implemented in 1978, major employers are required to track their job applicants and employees’ nationality, race, and gender (though applicants are free to withhold the information). While the data is not part of hiring decisions, it can be used in employment discrimination cases that arise. The EEOC, however, does not mandate tracking of LGBT status, though it says federal discrimination protections extend to that community—even if the law does not explicitly say so.

But Goldman, whose benefits package covers sex reassignment surgery, decided to start measuring its own LGBT inclusivity roughly a year ago. Its method is similar to that of the commission: First, it asks candidates to self-identify. Then, it removes the data from the resume and interview process. Finally, after the hires have been made, Goldman checks if the proportion of LGBT applicants is reflected in the eventual group hired.

While the bank isn’t seeking to hit a specific target at the moment, it is hoping to increase its percentage of LGBT employees, which it plans to track on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.

“It is a competitive market. If we don’t do that outreach, it is possible that we have left the best candidate on the table,” says Vazquez-Ubarri. The bank also actively reaches out to LGBT groups on university campuses in a bid to bolster its diversity. “Hopefully, this will become a part of what everyone does.”

Employers now have an imperative to demonstrate that their values match those of the younger generations just starting their careers and entering the workforce. The majority of Millennials and Gen-Zs now support LGBT rights, which means that big companies such as Goldman have to step in line if they want to stay an attractive workplace, said Deena Fidas, director of the workplace equality program at the Human Rights Campaign.

Indeed, 89% of Fortune 500 companies have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, while 66% ban discrimination based on gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

So far, Goldman Sachs is the only bank queried by Fortune to have included such questions on its job application.

Its fellow banks including J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM), Morgan Stanley (MS), Citigroup (C), HSBC (HSBC), Wells Fargo (WFC), and Bank of America (BAC), have all stuck with the traditional script. None ask about sexuality, and most gave users the choices of “male,” “female,” or some variation of “do not wish to disclose” for gender. Wells Fargo only allows its applicants to choose either male or female, or leave the section blank.

By law, job applicants may of course choose to not answer the questions. Still, all those banks, regardless of whether they ask about it on their application forms, keep track of their employees’ sexual orientation through internal questionnaires later on.

One bank, HSBC, has begun allowing its customers to pick from a variety of gender neutral prefixes such as ‘Mx,’ in its account application. But the bank has not done the same for its job applicants.

For now, HSBC plans to keep its questions “strictly” about the demographic groups that require reporting under equal employment opportunity and affirmative action rules—though it would be open to making a change, says Terri Pearce, the bank’s head of learning and recruiting for the U.S.

To be sure, just tracking LGBT status within a company’s applicant pool isn’t necessarily enough to bolster the representation of that group in-house. Plus, some job hunters’ resumes contain hidden signs that can reveal their gender, race or even sexual identity even if they never explicitly disclosed them. That could put some applicants at a disadvantage in the hiring process, as studies have shown that resumes with a white, male-sounding name tend to do better than the same resume headed by a black, hispanic, female, or Asian-sounding name.

“There is this unconscious bias happening,” says Clair Farley, director of economic development at San Francisco’s LGBT Center. Farley advises LGBT job seekers not to come out until after a job offer has been made. Then, if the offer is rescinded, the litigation process is much simpler, she says.

“Where women and LGBT are first to be hired, they are also first to be fired,” Farley says.

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