Growing the Pathway into a Firm

A Candid Discussion about Talent Diversity

SIFMA and its members strive to provide firms across the financial services industry with the resources needed to achieve, increase and promote workforce, client and supplier diversity and inclusion.

While our member firms have made progress with their diversity efforts, we know the industry has more work to do. We know that women, people of color and other underrepresented groups are still not represented in key roles, including leadership, and we need to do better.

To address this issue, SIFMA’s D&I Advisory Council provides actionable content and solutions to help firms build and advance a more diverse workforce. Rudy Rodriguez, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at Ameriprise Financial, and Chair of SIFMA’s D&I Advisory Council, has stated that it will take a collective effort to make progress to increase the diversity of the financial services industry:

Rudy Rodriguez, VP of Diversity & Inclusion at Ameriprise Financial, and Chair of SIFMA's D&I Advisory Council Quote

We recently hosted a virtual panel discussion with esteemed leaders in financial services, to discuss talent acquisition and how our industry can create a more diverse pipeline at all levels within firms. Rudy moderated the panel. This post shares some of the top takeaways from the candid discussion.

Connect with diverse students

Underscoring the importance of how and where you recruit diverse talent, Jim Reynolds – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Loop Capital Markets and Vice Chair of SIFMA Board of Directors – opened our candid discussion with the analogy, “You have to go fishing where the fish are.” Loop Capital recruits from a variety of schools, seeking candidates from city schools, state schools, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and more.

Michael Eastwood, Director of Equity Research for the Americas at Jefferies, who is the sponsor of his firm’s LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG) and mentors a group of Latino students in the Bronx, agrees, “when it comes to recruiting, you need to start with a diverse slate, interview candidates, then award the role based on merit.” A diverse slate can be achieved by reaching out to a broad range of schools and creating alliances with professors as well as student organizations related to business, accounting, research and strategy. ERGs within a firm can be another source of finding qualified, diverse candidates.

Jim shared a SIFMA initiative, currently in development, that will help firms connect with schools, form relationships with relevant departments like Business, and show diverse students the pathways into the industry through various types of roles and functions. He knows firsthand the interest that diverse youth have in financial services, receiving between 300-400 applications each year for 25-30 internship placements. “It’s a very desirable industry to work in for minorities. The supply is there.”

To successfully recruit diverse talent, be prepared to:

  • Identify a broad list of schools
  • Educate students at a variety of schools about the industry
  • Help them stay engaged with your firm

Educate within the firm

After a firm attracts diverse talent, the next step is the interview process, which has its own set of complex challenges that include unconscious bias. Describing education within a firm as a must, Jim said that “you need to be conscious of diverse groups in order to address unconscious bias.”

John Hwang, a Partner in the Capital Markets Practice at law firm Allen & Overy LLP, is actively involved in Diversity & Inclusion and mentorship initiatives at the firm and is also the partner lead of the U.S. Asian Affinity Network. Too often, he explained, the interview process is conversational, subjective, and affected by implicit bias, “We, as an industry, really need to look at this process and take steps to change it.” After adding unconscious bias and allyship training (both stand alone and during interviewer training) and changing the structure of interviews, the number of diverse candidates has significantly increased and feedback from law students has been positive.

To mitigate unconscious bias, commit to an intentional effort:

  • Educate all employees on language; help them understand the implications of using certain language
  • Work with employees to raise awareness about negative micro messages and underlying bias
  • Review and improve the interview process

Retain and advance diverse talent

Jim noted that the toughest challenge facing firms is creating a work culture where talent wants to work and remain with the firm.

When it comes to firm culture, the message from the top is critical. Education is critical. But just as importantly, so is the role of middle management. Managers should find ways to engage with their team, show that they care about the career development of their talent and help them learn as much as they can. Seeking out time with colleagues and managers through ERGs and other groups within a firm also benefits all.

There is so much more; the challenges with talent diversity are hugely complex. We could have easily kept the webinar going and this blog could easily be longer. But, as Michael emphasized, “This [effecting change] is not easy. It takes an immense amount of time and effort, but the satisfaction from achieving change is mammoth.”

John added that hiring and retaining a minimum of 30% diverse talent helps make your recruiting efforts self-sustaining, stating “if you hire just one or two diverse people, they may leave.”

To retain diverse talent, help them grow as a professional:

  • Provide the right environment for diverse people to grow with the firm – they will also help recruit diverse talent
  • Offer opportunities to network and build leadership skills; ERGs are one way to achieve that
  • Work with the firm’s middle managers to help advance talent; a defined career path is critical
  • Continually educate employees on language and diversity

We’ll be exploring firm culture in more detail as we continue this powerful conversation with our next webinar on February 10, Culture of Belonging. Our panel of industry leaders will focus on how to best achieve greater levels of retention and promotions among our diverse employee base and the impact of firm culture on those goals.

Participate in SIFMA’s other upcoming D&I events

  • Virtual Panel and Networking Event
  • Virtual Conference
    • June 16-17: Diversity and Inclusion Conference (stay tuned for details)

Learn More

SIFMA’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council focuses the industry’s efforts around six key initiatives.