As June is Pride month—which commemorates the long struggle for civil rights and equal justice for LGBTQ+ individuals—it’s an ideal time to look at how M&T and Wilmington Trust are focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. To take us through it, we spoke with Vice Chairman Kevin Pearson.
We hear a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion, both throughout the corporate world and beyond. How are those values reflected here at M&T?
The principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t just words we use because they're in vogue. We live those values every day, and it starts at the top with Chief Executive Officer René Jones, one of just eight Black CEOs on the prestigious Fortune 500 list, as of 2023.1 He once said, “The degree to which M&T doesn’t reflect society at large is the degree to which we risk becoming irrelevant.” I couldn’t agree more and feel personally gratified by the way our company embraces a diverse array of individuals—whether it’s according to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, or by any other measure. I am extremely proud of how we welcome those across the multicultural tapestry that we see in our nation. I’m proud of this not just during Pride month, but every single day.
In practical terms, one example of how this belief system comes to life is our Talent Acquisition Ambassadors program. It’s a concerted effort to locate the talent we may not reach through traditional recruitment channels. We have 40 ambassadors participating at university panels, job fairs, community workshops, and conferences who focus on recruiting individuals from diverse backgrounds. And it goes beyond recruitment to influence how we shape growth in the communities at large and in particular, the underrepresented, minority-owned businesses in these neighborhoods. However, we recognize that diversity, equity, and inclusion begin at home. We work hard and look inward to eradicate any potential barriers to employee satisfaction and goal achievement for those in our M&T family.
Tell us about the different employee groups at M&T and their commitment to embracing those with certain commonalities?
There are 14 employee resource groups--each organized around a particular interest, identity, or characteristic, such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, family status, sexual orientation, nationality, and more. Some groups have chapters that span from Western New York to Boston and Washington, DC. I’m pleased to count myself as a member of a number of them, such as Pride, which consists of LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies. Using Pride as just one example of how we actively support our communities, we are closely connected to LGBTQ+ chambers of commerce and businesses. Our firm earned a score of 100% in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index,2 the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices, and benefits related to LGBTQ+ employees. That is an achievement of which we are very proud. The level of support that diverse groups in our M&T family can count on is just one reason we have been able to attract and retain talent.
M&T and its wealth management arm Wilmington Trust maintain a goals-based approach to wealth planning. In keeping with Pride month, how does that approach impact LGBTQ+ individuals in particular?
If you don’t have a plan, you’re operating in a vacuum, and you can’t be sure all your financial goals are aligned. People sometimes think planning begins and ends with investing but there’s a host of other important issues, like insurance protections, cash flow continuity, and estate planning. Perhaps this is more of an issue with same-sex couples, as it was only in 2015 that the Supreme Court of the United States recognized our fundamental right to marry.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that planning must be paramount for all groups. And this is especially the case with LGBTQ+ individuals and families, where there are variations and uncertainties in legal protections, and specific issues such as those relating to surrogacy and parenting. One aspect of planning that can be especially important in the case of those with potentially complex family dynamics is having a corporate executor to settle estates as opposed to a friend or relative. An objective third-party professional familiar with federal and state laws is better equipped to preserve assets and manage the needs of beneficiaries. A key element to establishing a plan is having an experienced financial advisor you can trust. Research tells us LGBTQ+ individuals are less likely to seek advice from a professional advisor compared to their straight counterparts (35% vs. 44%).3 In my view, that's clearly something that needs to change.
Wilmington Trust’s planning team has considerable experience working with both traditional and what’s considered more modern families. We understand that no two families are the same, and each requires a customized approach and creative solutions. Our planning services are truly unique to each client relationship we serve, evolving as our clients and their lives evolve.
Can you please share a little bit about opening up about one’s sexual orientation at work? What was that like for you and what advice would you give others who haven’t yet taken that leap?
When I shared that aspect of my personal life with colleagues and executives at the bank, I was a bit apprehensive, but it proved to be completely unnecessary. They were warm, supportive, and appreciated my honesty. For me, it was the right decision. The workplace is moving in a positive direction; 206 major corporations advocated for the Supreme Court’s June 2020 decision protecting LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination on the job. And research shows an increasing number of companies are embracing our rights.4 Still, coming out at work remains a very personal issue.
Rather than say people should follow my lead, they need to follow their own timelines. What I can say with confidence is that M&T is a place where employees can feel a sense of belonging and can bring their authentic selves to work. For those who share their orientation or gender identity openly, I am sure that you will feel comfortable, safe, and at home here, just like I do.
1 Black Fortune 500 CEOs reach record high number | Fortune