Inside The Federal Reserve’s PRISM
Photo: In June, PRISM sponsored a panel discussion, “Learning to Celebrate Yourself,” that featured members and supporters of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Gene Johnson, far left, a PRISM member, moderated the discussion. Panelists included, from left, Lisa Halberstadt, psychiatry research specialist at Virginia Commonwealth University and board member of ROSMY; Jerry Moreno, senior vice president and chief financial officer for IT; and Kathy Carmody, board chair of the Gay Community Center of Richmond. Courtesy Federal Reserve of Richmond.
Last June, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond made the bold decision to fly the rainbow flag on their grounds during National Pride Month. Earlier this month, the bank released an internal memo saying the flag will not fly in 2012, but they will still recognize Pride Month in a less public way.
The initial decision brought a lot of media attention and created dialogue on both sides to the tune of 1,000 e-mails and phone calls received by the bank – not completely expected according to Jim Strader, media relations for the Fed.
“Initially the reaction was within our own community,” he says. ”As it got in the news, people contacted us from around the country. It was an unusual level of public interest and commentary. A lot of what we do publicly is geared towards monetary policy — not something that many people get excited about.”
Strader meets me downstairs. As we go through security and up elevators, through cubicles and offices, it feels like a normal corporate environment complete with motivational posters and friendly receptionists. Nothing mysterious to see here.
As we exit the elevator, a large collage sponsored by PRISM, celebrates Fed families. PRISM is the bank’s LGBT employee resource network (ERN) and the group that got the support of bank president Jeffrey Lacker in raising the rainbow flag. This month’s project was open to all 1,700 bank employees and featured all types of families – gay, straight, young, old, multigenerational.
Included on the board is a picture of Jerry Moreno with his own family.
We’re meeting with Moreno – a veteran employee at the Federal Reserve for 26 years and a member of PRISM. He’s been in Richmond since 1992 and is currently the bank’s senior vice president and chief financial office for information technology.
For background, the Fed serves as America’s central bank as Strader describes. They supervise financial institutions, provide payment services, and research economic-monetary policy. The Federal Reserve Act created the 12 individual banks as private institutions across the country in 1913 with oversite from a board of governors.
Moreno begins by describing PRISM and its function as an ERN. These networks are unique to the location they serve. The Richmond Fed’s LGBT network also covers branches in Baltimore and Charlotte.”
“It’s really focused on connecting a community of employees within the bank. It’s purely internal to our organization. That doesn’t mean that the group may not choose to do community outreach,” Moreno says noting they have volunteered with ROSMY.
PRISM, like the other employee networks, is primarily business-focused and was created several years ago as part of the bank’s diversity and inclusion initiative to recruit and retain top talent. The employee-run LGBT group has about 40 members that meet monthly.
“We did a lot of research with other organizations and found that there was tremendous success reported through a number of industries through employee resource networks,” Moreno says.
He speaks proudly of the bank and their commitment to supporting its LGBT employees not only during Pride Month, but year-round.
“We believe that we have to be a diverse and inclusive organization to be that employer of choice for top talent,” he says. ”…I personally believe is the right thing to do, it is undoubtedly the right business strategy.”
How did the decision to raise the flag come up?
“We started with how Pride Month – and what it represents can be used to support the bank’s broader inclusion and diversity objectives. That turned into a question into how might the bank have a more visible demonstration of diversity and inclusion,” Moreno says.
“The concept behind the rainbow flag itself is that it represents coming together – it represents different points of view. Well before the gay pride movement – it represented different tribes, different communities…A request was made to the president of the bank.”
The rest was history. PRISM’s reaction to the conversation it started? Moreno says those reactions were as diverse as the people in the group.
“The first and most general reaction was to show our strong support to the bank’s leadership for having made that decision in the first place. Clearly, we were strengthened by the strong expressions of support of the Richmond community. Some [of our members] were dismayed by the expressions of disapproval. People realized that it’s a tough issue – one that benefits from being out in the open.”
And that decision to not fly the flag in 2012 – did it come from public opinion? Yes and no according to Strader.
“The decision was based in that desire to not distract from our mission publicly and really focus on what that flag demonstrated – which was the commitment to diversity and inclusion among our employees,” he says.
Strader also mentions that the Fed is not opposed to displaying the flag in the future — as long as it was part of a city-wide event and others were taking part. He gives the example of the Grand Illumination when the downtown skyline lights up for the holiday season.
“If there were a broad community celebration and display of pride flags, it wouldn’t preclude us from being part of that.”
Moreno’s perspective — “Personally, I think that the Fed has to stay focused on its mission. We have as Jim pointed out, many opportunities to show our support for the communities that we live in,” he says. ”Flying that flag was really a demonstration of support for our employees.”
“We’re better off focusing that demonstration internally and avoiding inviting the public into that dialogue…That commitment to demonstrate support for our gay and lesbian employees really won’t be affected by whether or not we’re flying a flag,” Moreno says. ”It will be shown regardless.”
Kevin Clay is the editor and publisher of GAYRVA.COM. He is a Richmond native, loves the city and knows it's on the edge of greatness. Don't hold back RVA. You can follow Kevin on GAYRVA's Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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