Skip to content

wisconsin rainbow state

When First Data Corp., an Atlanta-based electronic payments firm, merged with Fiserv in January 2019, LGBTQ community member Karen Feliciano wondered how she would fare as a new employee of the Brookfield-based fintech giant. Three years have since passed, and she couldn’t be happier with the change.

“It’s very cool,” says Feliciano, vice president of underwriting for Fiserv’s Global Business Solutions unit from her Coral Springs, Florida, office. “I lead the Global Unity Employees Resource Group. You want people to feel like they belong to something every day they come to work, and the change here has been phenomenal.”

With more than 44,000 employees worldwide in 35 countries and $16.22 billion in annual revenues, Fiserv ranks 227 among Fortune 500 companies and is a big gun when it comes to financial technology. It also is one 17 Wisconsin companies earning a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index, which measures employer commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices. (See chart.)

“We have a culture of inclusion-enhancing benefits and we’ve done a lot for all employees, including the LGBTQ community, because we know diverse voices lead to more creative solutions,” says Jennifer Dietrich, vice president of Global Benefits and Wellness Programs in Fiserv’s Brookfield office. “Progress moves at the speed of trust, and the Corporate Equity Score is very important to us.”

Elements of Equity

Launched in 2002, HRC’s Corporate Equity Index serves as a roadmap and benchmarking tool for companies concerned with equitable treatment of LGBTQ employees. Nationally, 1,271 companies in 2022 were voluntarily evaluated in five major categories all designed to measure tolerance and equitable treatment for the target population. Broadly speaking, those categories totaling 100 possible points include:

A perfect score is important for those companies choosing to pursue it, says LGBTQ community member Rob Van Nevel, executive vice president and COO at UW Credit Union, a $5 billion Madison based financial cooperative.

“The recognition highlights our credit union’s ongoing efforts to create a workplace environment where all employees are valued, respected and have the support they need to thrive,” Van Nevel says. “It’s a testament to what we can accomplish when we accept people’s differences and work as one.”

“We began our efforts [toward Corporate Equity Index recognition] three years ago because we felt we had both a need and opportunity to develop diversity, equity and inclusion,” explains Denise Domian, chief human resources officer for Racine-based Johnson Financial Group. During that time, JFG’s score has risen from 70 to 100 points. “Our CEO Jim Popp is very much on board with this effort. We started with listening sessions to find out what our strengths are and where we could be doing better.”

From the Top Down

Top-down support such as Popp’s is critical for making the program work, according to Becky Crowley, JFG’s anti-money laundering specialist and nine-year veteran of the $14 billion banking and financial institution with more than 1,000 and 30-plus locations.

“Having leadership support from the beginning was a very big thing,” says Crowley, who also heads JFG’s Pride Group. “It’s harder to push the message up than have it come from the top down. It’s also a crucial step in catching a program’s momentum and rolling with it.”

The program’s overall presence and its services have helped LGBTQ community members perform better and feel more comfortable, Crowley explains. “It’s mentally taxing to have to ‘mask’ all the time,” she adds. “The fact that it’s easier to walk in and be authentically you is a powerful and reaffirming feeling.”

Fiserv’s Feliciano agrees. “I remember what it was like to be ‘hidden.’ My day was spent working but also speaking in the third person about ‘someone important to me’,” she says. “But now, we respect everybody. It’s important and your heart feels good when you do it.”

Building Community

Internal mechanisms are critical to supporting corporate equity programs, but they also help companies reach out to the broader LGBTQ community, according to Patrick Mutsune, managing director at Baird Advisors, part of Robert W. Baird & Co., a Milwaukee-based multinational investment bank and financial services provider with more than 200 locations worldwide and $360 billion in client assets under management.

Baird has taken multiple steps over the past few years to better serve LGBTQ members from its global base of 4,800 associates, says Mutsune, a former chair of Baird’s Spectrum Associate Resource Group designed to support LGBTQ employees. The group currently has 200 members.

“Spectrum offers educational sessions and networking opportunities for LGBTQ associates and allies, including hosting events for Pride Month and National Coming Out Day to promote awareness, education, and visibility for LGBTQ associates,” Mutsune says. “Spectrum has also supported national organizations, such as The Trevor Project [which supports at-risk LGBTQ youth] and has formed partnerships with a number of Milwaukee-area community organizations, including Courage House, The Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and Vivent Health.”

Baird and other groups that have achieved a perfect score know that the Human Rights Campaign Foundation continues to evolve its metrics each year to match changing social conditions and challenges. That means the companies, too, will have to enhance their efforts if they want to keep their perfect scores. Many say that these days it’s more than just the right thing to do.

“If you don’t know how an organization feels about queer folks, the default is to keep things to yourself,” JFG’s Crowley says. “I have expanded my network immensely among my coworkers and knowing that they’re in my corner is powerful and gratifying experience. That gives us a certain level of ‘pride’ and helps us all move forward.”


As seen in