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Wall Street's campaign to hire Black talent isn't going so well

Kelsey Butler and Lananh Nguyen, Bloomberg News on

Published in Business News

For Black professionals who get job offers on Wall Street, there's pay and benefits to consider. But also isolation, bias and racism.

As big U.S. banks and asset managers vow at long last to address the industry's dearth of Black executives, those who have been around a while warn progress will require more than the usual hiring spree. Offices remain alienating and even inhospitable. Most organizations lack mentors who can help guide the way up the org chart.

Recruiters say top Black candidates have learned to be skeptical.

"Folks are looking for welcome signs," said Anthony Wright, founder of Diversity Recruiters, a Seattle-based executive search firm that helps clients including banks with inclusive hiring. "And when you're a minority, the sign doesn't say 'Welcome,' the sign says 'Is there anybody there that looks like me?' "

The national debate over racial injustice that erupted in May in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis is casting a harsh light on financial firms, not only for their role in creating economic inequity but also their slow cultivation of diversity within their own massive workforces. Over the past 15 years, Black people have seen their presence in the industry stall at a mere 8% -- a figure that typically dwindles heading up the leadership ranks.

Increasingly, bank executives are getting warned that bonuses will reflect their progress in fixing those issues. Last month, Wells Fargo & Co. became the latest to adopt such a policy.

 

Firms are trying to overcome something of a Catch-22: The industry lacks the critical mass of senior Black executives that could pave the way for retaining and cultivating more Black executives. Past attempts to break the cycle fell short.

"In many ways, bringing people in is the easy part," Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat told a virtual conference last week. The real challenge to improving representation on staff is retention and managing careers, he said. "If we really go out today and hire a bunch of Black talent and we don't nurture them, we don't guide them, they don't have role models -- they're not going to stay."

Seeking Mentors

Jay Freeman, an investment banker-turned-consultant who's worked on corporate turnarounds and restructurings, looks at diversity in senior management before attending job interviews.

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