Facing the challenge of fostering diversity in derivatives

Expo panel discussion addresses efforts large and small to improve representation in the industry

30 October 2019


As with so many other areas of society, the financial industry has recognized the importance of fostering diversity in its workforce. That commitment to diversity was on display again at FIA Expo 2019, with a panel discussion on the efforts underway across the derivatives industry to improve representation of women and minorities at all levels.

Alicia Crighton, managing director at Goldman Sachs and chair of FIA's diversity committee, acknowledged that there is no magic bullet to fix long-standing challenges to diversity -- either in the financial industry specifically, or in unwiring some of the unconscious biases that exist in so many of us. To that end, she said, both the Expo panel and FIA's formal diversity initiative that launched earlier in 2019 are important ways to "find value in personal discussions about our experiences, about how we can do more and about how to move the conversation forward for the next generation."

Board level diversity

Betty Liu, the chief experience officer for the Intercontinental Exchange and executive vice chairman of NYSE Group, shared some of her experiences from early in her career as a reporter for Bloomberg that gave her "micro mentoring moments" with top minds in the financial industry.

"It made me think, I'm lucky I get to sit across from Warren Buffett and get that advice. So why can't everyone get that advice?" she said.

As a result, she embarked on a project that would deliver tidbits of training to "mostly millennial managers" via quick two-minute videos -- an initiative that caught the eye of Jeff Sprecher, chairman and CEO of the Intercontinental Exchange, who offered Liu a unique role in his organization with responsibilities that include co-chairing a NYSE Board Advisory Council that is focused on diversity and leadership at the highest levels of business.

The Advisory Council comprises CEOs from NYSE-listed corporations that are among the world’s largest and most well-established brands, with participants committing to using their networks to identify qualified women and minority candidates interested in serving on public or private boards. Liu said that the Advisory Council does not work as a "headhunter" looking to fill specific jobs, but acts as a forum to "accelerate that process of placing people on boards via board networking summits."

Through a series of live events, the Council introduces candidates to NYSE-listed companies seeking to expand diversity on their corporate boards. Liu said that so far, engagement has been "incredible" with every candidate among nearly 100 in the program showing up for a recent event. "Engagement is a good example of what success looks like in the short term," she said.

Sponsorship and mentoring

Ali Wolpert, the executive director of global policy at DTCC, said that in addition to focusing on diverse candidates themselves, organizations should create a diverse culture by empowering leadership to take an active mentorship role and to speak up for their employees who don't yet have a seat at the table.

"When you're not in the room, you need someone as your advocate when you're not represented there, someone to lean in on your behalf," she said.

To help with these mentorship efforts, DTCC has focused on advancing high-potential women through direct training and coaching with the specific aim of getting these women promoted to senior positions in two years.

In the area of racial diversity, Wolpert said DTCC has hired a "director of diverse sourcing" to build and nurture talent pipelines though historically black colleges and universities.

Though these two DTCC programs are quite different, they share a long-term focus on personal connections -- a key to any effort in fostering diversity through identifying and nurturing talent early on, and then sticking with it.

"None of this is one and done," she said. "You have to put in the effort to sustain diversity initiatives."

Measuring success

Mariam Rafi, managing director and North American head of OTC clearing at Citi, described how her firm decided to dig deeper into the data to understand its diversity challenges.

For instance, she noted a Citi study on how much women are paid at the organization vs. their peers that are male. The results showed figures that were close to parity based on similar roles, although a look at median pay that did not adjust for seniority showed the median woman made 29% less than the median man at Citi, "which represents that we don't have as many women in senior positions," she said.

To correct this, Citi has a 2012 target of 40% for representation of women at AVP or managing director level positions within its companies. Rafi also pointed out the importance of visible progress towards this goal, citing Citi's recent promotion of Jane Fraser to president and global head of consumer banking, putting her in position to become the first woman to lead a major U.S. bank.

Quotas can get a bad name, she said, but these quantitative efforts are important because "you can't measure progress if you don't know what you're measuring against."

Small things still matter

Nancy Stern, the chief operating officer and general counsel at Allston Holdings, provided a contrast to these large organizational efforts at bigger firms. Her message was that smaller businesses shouldn't be intimitaded by these large scale diversity efforts and should instead look at the positive side of being small.

After all, the benefit of smaller firms is that they make it easier to forge personal connections that matter, she said.

"In a smaller organization, you can take smaller steps even on a one-on-one level to ensure that your culture is going to be one where people can thrive regardless of their demographics," she said. "We can really focus implicit bias and focus on one-on-one interactions that can really strengthen the culture we have."

She also pointed to "small scale learning experiences," including simple things like the words used in job advertisements, or simply trying to "pay it forward" on a day-to-day basis. These may not sound as dramatic as the large scale efforts, but can still connect in meaningful ways with employees from different backgrounds who may not feel represented in the industry.

"I try to take a personal interest in people's professional development at all levels," Stern said.

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