Chuck Burke has made being out and living and working as his authentic self a cornerstone of personal and career success.
Charles "Chuck" Burke recalls a promise he made to himself close to 20 years ago.
Before his first post-college foray into professional life, he vowed two things: one, that he would pursue a career in finance that would be challenging and personally fulfilling; two, that he would only work at a firm that fostered inclusivity, tolerance, and where as a gay man, he could be himself.
Burke had been drawn to a career on Wall Street early in his college years. He had honed his analytical prowess and developed a strong belief that finance could serve the greater good by fueling growth and development globally. Furthermore, he was familiar with and excited by the pace of working in an investment bank, courtesy of a summer internship after junior year.
What gave him pause was that the financial industry had a reputation for being a bastion of tradition and privilege, often at the expense of women, minorities, and members of the LGBT+ community.
"I was familiar with the stories of LGBT+ employees spending considerable amounts of time trying to hide their true identities from colleagues, as well as the tendency of gay graduates on Wall Street who had been out during college to retreat to the closet, motivated by fear of a disapproving corporate culture," Burke says. "As a gay individual, you often have a series of 'coming out' decisions, starting with family and friends. Add to that the question of if and when you should come out to workplace colleagues and clients, and whether you can do your best work if you're not living authentically; it's an incredible burden."
Acceptance as a Call to Action
Despite all that, Burke stuck with his original plan. After graduation, he began working at the investment bank where he had interned in the summer. His coworkers were so open and accepting that he grew comfortable enough to come out to his fellow analysts. "I remember scouring the Gay and Lesbian book section of the World Trade Center, trying to find something to guide me through the process," he says. In retrospect, Burke needn't have worried. His colleagues unilaterally supported his decision to "be authentic" at work, as well as in his personal life.
Burke's career took him up the ranks of numerous businesses and divisions within the industry. These included corporate finance, corporate development, and risk management, before he found his long-term home in investment management.
As he spent more time in global finance as an openly gay man, Burke realized that acceptance, however gratifying, wasn't enough; more subtle forms of LGBT+ discrimination still existed. At the time, full marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans, for example, still didn't exist on a national level.
Burke decided that he wanted to take more action and joined Open Finance, a volunteer network of firms whose members drive and promote LGBT+ inclusion and diversity in the financial sector. He eventually became Co-Chair of the Best Practices Committee, working on policy issues concerning domestic partner benefits and parental leave policies as well as crafting other important positions concerning LGBT+ workplace equality.
When Burke was making the decision to join Morgan Stanley, he attended an LGBT+ finance networking event which featured several senior members of Morgan Stanley's management team. He was impressed by how these senior professionals championed the firm as a model of inclusion. They proudly pointed to then-CEO John Mack, who during his tenure publicly stated that if the firm was to attract the best and brightest, it had to offer the same opportunities, rights, and privileges to all. "If LGBT+ employees were going to spend the bulk of their waking hours at work, they had every right to expect an open and inclusive environment," Burke says. "John Mack seemed to instinctively know that. So discovering that this was the firm's mandate, there wasn't even a question that I was going to work here."
LGBT+ Rights as Human Rights
Since joining Morgan Stanley in 2011, Burke has made an impact. As a Managing Director and Head of Global Marketing for Investment Managment, he also co-chairs the North American chapter of the Pride & Ally Network, the firm's organization for LGBT+ employees and allies and sits on the Investment Management Diversity Council. The Pride & Ally Network is active globally with chapters in Morgan Stanley offices around the world, working together to advance LGBT+ equality.
"Morgan Stanley is incredibly active and effective when it comes to LGBT+ concerns, not just though the Pride & Ally Network, but also through its active recruitment of LGBT+ students and signing of amicus briefs and other similar statements concerning LGBT+--related policy issues," Burke says.
For example, in 2013, Burke, along with Pride & Ally Network Co-Chair Jacqueline LiCalzi, was involved with approaching the firm's Operating Committee—including Chairman and CEO James Gorman—about the firm taking a public position on federal marriage equality, just as the landmark case U.S. vs. Windsor was headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. "James and the operating committee were quick to lend their support, resulting in Morgan Stanley being one of the first major financial firms to sign on to an amicus brief supporting marriage equality," he says. "That really said it all for me in terms of how Morgan Stanley approaches LGBT+ concerns; in other words, not only as LGBT+ rights, but as human rights."
As Burke's responsibilities have grown, he feels more compelled than ever to give back, especially when it comes to younger colleagues. "At this point, there's really no mentoring meeting that I won't take," he says, adding: "I recognize that so many of my colleagues, friends, and Pride & Ally Network members paved the way for me to make it to this place in my career, so I'm grateful and obligated to be on the cutting edge of LGBT+ rights and personally invest in people. We're so often consumed by the frenetic pace of our workday. To me, it's human rights efforts, fostering connections, and their meaningful results that make it all count."