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Black on Wall Street: Slow progress in building the numbers

Juliette MICHEL
·4-min read

In a more than two-decade run in finance across five countries, Troy Prince came across just one other Black person on a trading desk.

In 2018, he founded Wall Street Bound because "after 20-plus years, I felt something has to be done, because it's not changing," Prince said in an interview.

The non-profit trains young talent from underrepresented populations on the combination of "hard" number-crunching competencies and "soft" skills on corporate culture to help them navigate Wall Street.

"Of course, no one will overtly say trading desks are reserved for white men," Prince told AFP. "But on the trading desk, in investment banking teams, troops are recruiting from the same schools, from the same fraternities, the lacrosse team."

This insularity means Wall Street recruiters are "not waking up one day and saying, let's go recruit at Howard (University), let's go recruit at City University of New York," he added.

Prince says he knows of no instances where he was denied professional opportunities because of his race, while acknowledging that he would "not ever really know" for sure.

The son of immigrants from the Caribbean and the oldest of five siblings, Prince understood that after his family bought a house in upmarket Westchester County, he should put that address on a resume, rather than the one in the Bronx, a much less white neighborhood.

"I'm not a complainer," Prince said. "I want to present practical and scalable solutions to this problem."

- Addressing double standards -

African-Americans comprise about 13 percent of the US population.

At JPMorgan Chase, the biggest US bank in terms of assets, Black staff account for 13 percent of headcount but just four percent of managers.

Only about 1.3 percent of the $69 trillion asset management business is currently managed by firms led by women or minorities, even if their performance is comparable to those led by white men, according to a study by the Knight Foundation.

Earlier this year, the head of Wells Fargo raised hackles when he pointed to a lack of available Black talent as a factor in the bank's slow progress on diversity.

Four hundred years after the arrival of the first slaves, the United States continues to contend with significant discrimination against African-Americans.

Mass racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in May has shone a light on inequality, forcing America to contend with a difficult legacy of racism.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to serve in the role, have stressed diversity in their appointments, which include the first-ever Black Defense Secretary.

Large companies have redoubled efforts to promote and retain non-white executives and rethink their hiring practices.

In response to requests from AFP for an update on their efforts to boost diversity, large banks said they were willing to discuss their new recruitment efforts, but most declined to make Black workers available for interviews.

"The biggest thing is eliminating bias when it comes to who gets hired, who gets promoted and how their performance is assessed," said diversity consultant Katherine Giscombe. "There is a huge amount of bias, especially against African-Americans, in those three areas."

Studies have shown that Black employees are typically sanctioned for mistakes much more frequently than white counterparts who make the same errors.

"Don't keep giving white employees the benefit of the doubt," said Giscombe, who urges companies to track data on job candidates and hires by race.

- Slow progress -

Guy Logan, a managing director at Citigroup who sits on a Citi employee council for underrepresented minorities, said much of the panel's effort goes to retaining Black employees and making sure they have opportunities to be promoted.

Logan also serves as chairman for the National Association of Securities Professionals, a professional society for minorities in the securities and investments industries.

"When I walk into the room I'm often the only minority," Logan said. "So connecting with an organization like NASP really afforded me the opportunity to broaden my personal and professional networks."

The push post-George Floyd is not Wall Street's first stab at improving diversity and representation. Several Black professionals recalled efforts in the 1970s and 1980s at the insistence of African American mayors to recruit more non-white bankers.

Diversifying Wall Street is a "work in progress," Logan said.

"This problem, one can argue, is 400 years in the making," he said. "We know that it's not going to change overnight."

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