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The fight for equal benefits

GLAM founder, Omar, helped to trail blaze benefits for same sex couples 25 years ago
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My GLAM beginning

For current consultants, the early days of the gay struggle are probably so foreign they may be incomprehensible. In 1995, coming out at McKinsey was difficult for most of us and took courage.  Many people in large cities in the US and abroad were not accepting of gay people and there was no hope on the horizon for legalizing gay marriage. During this time, any gay networking inside of the firm (and outside of it) was very discrete. One would need to rely on one’s intuition to come out to colleagues, taking a huge risk of rejection.

I recall an offsite training session I led for a group of 25 business analysts. A senior partner was invited to answer questions. One was whether his office would allow a gay consultant to bring his/her same sex partner or date to the office retreat. His answer was, although that may cause surprise to some of our more conservative colleagues, he would expect people in his office to make the same-sex couple feel comfortable. Another straight business analyst chimed in that if a gay colleague of his was not allowed to bring his/her date, he was probably working for the wrong firm.
That was very inspiring to me. Soon after, when the publisher of the annual firm directory approached me for edits (yes, in the pre-internet days, there was a printed directory that included in parenthesis the name of each colleague’s spouse), I told him to print “Glen” next to my name. Glen was my partner of four years. I believe this was the first time someone had printed the name of a same-sex partner in the directory. To my surprise, there was no push back at all.

A step toward progress

In 1995, John De Vincentis, another GLAM founder, and I had a conversation about the lack of spouse-like health benefits for gay firm members. Through very discrete networking, we located a small group of colleagues who were willing to be transparent about our efforts. To do so required some to come out publicly for the first time. John and I were willing, so we conducted meetings with personnel leadership. They were surprised and initially hesitant regarding our request. We then talked to the global managing partner who suggested we make a proposal to the partner election committee. John and I gladly took the opportunity and, with the assistance of the other early GLAM members, prepared our materials.

I will never forget this partner election committee meeting. We were given thirty minutes to speak. I saw senior partners with whom I had worked on client teams; they were surprised to see me there and puzzled by our request. Although most understood the need for health benefits, many did not understand why we would need to have a “gay group” and be public about our sexual orientation. While we were giving our presentation, a member of the committee stood up and walked to the window; he spent most of our presentation looking out of it. Clearly, he was uncomfortable. Nevertheless, several committee members were very supportive and ultimately agreed with us. It took several years to make those benefits available globally, as there was resistance in some offices, but ultimately, our small group did it. In my 33 years of service at the firm, this achievement makes me the proudest.

Learn more about GLAM at McKinsey