February 8 2008: 9:18 AM EST
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Unusual perks: Goldman Sachs covers sex changes

The investment bank, No. 9 on the Best Companies to Work For list, added the benefit last year as part of a push to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce.

By Althea Chang

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NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Wall Street is typically considered a pretty conservative place to work. But the classic white-shoe investment bank is loosening things up by adding health benefits that cover sex-change operations.

Not only is Goldman Sachs ranked No. 9 on Fortune's list of 100 Best Companies to Work For, it also appears on what could be a list of transgendered job-seekers' ideal employers as well.

Goldman added health-insurance coverage of sex reassignment surgery as part of a push last year to attract top talent and recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, the company said.

The surgery alone could cost an individual anywhere from $5,000 to $150,000 if they paid out of pocket, depending on their particular situation, said Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, a group that campaigns for transgender rights. That figure doesn't include hormone and other drug treatments.

Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500)' plan covers the actual surgery, as well as transgender-related prescription drugs, such as testosterone injections, said spokeswoman Gia Morn. It does not cover electrolysis and other cosmetic treatments, she said.

The surgery is free under the company's HMO and PPO plans as long as patients are screened and diagnosed with transsexualism and see an in-network doctor. Drugs are subject to regular prescription copays that are typically $5 to $30 a month.

Goldman is not the only financial firm that offers such benefits. Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), Deutsche Bank (DB) and Wachovia (WB, Fortune 500) also offer some level of coverage for transgender treatments, according to a poll by the Human Rights Campaign - a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group.

The HRC asked Fortune 1000 corporations, large law firms and other companies to volunteer information on their policies and benefits; 519 employers responded. But companies on its list may cover just hormone therapy and related prescription drugs, and not the sex reassignment surgery, as Goldman does.

For example, Wachovia's health plan deems sex reassignment surgery "elective," and not medically necessary, so it doesn't pay for actual operations. But the bank does allow transgendered employees to take short-term disability leave for surgery and covers some related prescriptions, such as painkillers and antidepressants, said a company spokeswoman, Megan Roberts.

Wachovia also offers post-operative counseling and provides diversity and sensitivity training for the "transitioning" employee's officemates, allowing the person to "feel like they can come back to some sort of normal work environment," Roberts adds.

Meanwhile, Bank of America covers the surgery, and related treatments such as hormone shots and prescriptions, as long as they're deemed by a doctor to be medically necessary.

Besides banks, other large companies including Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) and General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) cover transgender treatments, according to the HRC survey.

Even in the aerospace and defense industry, as well as among law firms and consulting firms, more employers are adding non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation as well as providing additional insurance coverage for transgendered staff, said Samir Luther, manager of the Workplace Project at the Human Rights Campaign foundation.

Since employers don't want to discourage diverse candidates from applying to their firms, said Luther, "it's a trend that's going to continue even in conservative industries."

"Because we have a system of employer-based insurance, any employer that does not clearly include gender identity in their employment policies may send a signal that they're not supportive," added Park, of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy.

And even though sex reassignment surgery can be expensive, a company covering the procedure won't break the bank, according to Park.

"With companies that do provide coverage, it actually doesn't affect their bottom line significantly," Park said. She added that of the few transgendered employees there may be at any given company, most don't actually want a surgical sex change.

"It's simply a myth to think that providing coverage for sex reassignment surgery is going to bankrupt a company," Park added.

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