Banks are capitalizing on gay pride month as a major marketing opportunity.
"It's one of the sectors that we have really grown over the last four or five years," says Chris Frederick, the managing director of the Heritage of Pride in New York, the group that organizes the New York City pride festival scheduled for June 24-29.
And banks such as TD Bank, PNC Financial Services Group (PNC) and Wells Fargo (WFC) are offering more than just financial support. They are organizing employees to march in parades, pass out candy and branded swag and advertise their companies to crowds of onlookers.
Though LGBT employees have historically struggled to gain acceptance in the conservative culture of the banking industry, attitudes in the industry have shifted in recent years. Messages of inclusion are being aimed at current workers, potential recruits and customers.
Banks are quicker to boast about their benefits for gay and lesbian clients and employees. Many provide wealth planning advice tailored for domestic partners. It's also common for large banks to have internal LGBT employee networks, in addition to benefits for domestic partners.
Several of the country's biggest banks, including Bank of America (BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM), also received scores of 100% this year on the Corporate Equality Index, an evaluation from the Human Rights Campaign that looks at workplace protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Banking and financial services has consistently led the pack in terms of the industry representation of 100%-rated participants," said Liz Cooper, manager of corporate programs at HRC. "They have consistently had this air of competition and really seen the value of supporting their LGBT employees."
This month, several banks are putting their commitments to diversity on public display.
TD Bank, for example, has sponsored 20 pride events throughout the East Coast. The bank started sponsoring pride events in 2009 and says it has continually increased its employee participation since then.
The involvement varies by location. TD's New York pride parade float, for example, will feature an appearance from Miss Gay New Jersey. At other events, employees will hang up TD banners, set up promotional tents as well as drive a van bearing the logo of the company's "TD WOW!" financial literacy program.
"We want our customers to feel comfortable," says Robert Pompey, the head of commercial management administration at TD. And from a business perspective, he says, pride festivities offer an opportunity to reach "multiple customers in a very visible way."
PNC plans to sponsor 32 events in 27 cities. Its primary focus will be in Pittsburgh, its headquarters, where festivities are scheduled to include a block party with the singer-songwriter Chaka Khan on Saturday. Bank employees will also march in the parade, wearing matching T-shirts in PNC-branded colors.
PNC started sponsoring LGBT Pride events five years ago, said Steve Tamsula, a finance vice president. At that time, roughly 30 employees marched in the Pittsburgh parade, he said. This year, the bank expects more than a hundred employees to show up and carry a banner with the phrase "for strengthening our community."
"We want our employees to feel they can bring their whole selves to work," Tamsula said.
Wells Fargo, which has more than 45 pride events in the works, will march a horse-drawn carriage in the New York parade. Additionally, the bank this month unveiled a mural depicting LGBT history at its West Hollywood branch. LGBT activist Stuart Milk, the nephew of civil rights activist Harvey Milk, was present for the unveiling, according to a company spokeswoman.
Wells also plans to release the results of a survey of financial concerns among LGBT customers in late June around the first anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Bank of America's sponsorships include the San Francisco and Charlotte pride festivals. The bank also plans to take part in the New York pride parade, according to a bank spokeswoman.
Citigroup (NYSE:C) is a lead sponsor for the New York pride festival. The bank kicked off its pride recognition last month, when CEO Michael Corbat hosted the Out on the Street conference in New York, focusing on leadership strategies within the LGBT community. Additionally, select branches across the country will display pride flags in their windows, a spokesman said.
HSBC plans to participate in the Buffalo, New York and Washington festivals. The bank has adorned its branches near New York's 5th Avenue parade route with pride flags and also plans to light up the HSBC Tower in Hong Kong in bright rainbow colors.
"We want to demonstrate our progressive approach in the workplace," says Marlon Young, the chief executive of HSBC Private Bank-Americas.
HSBC President and CEO Irene Dorner plans to take part in New York pride parade, where she may ride the bank's float. Regardless, she'll be surrounded by a group of HSBC employees, walking through a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of cheering supporters.