What drew you to the derivatives industry?
In one word: mentorship. I had a great working relationship with a senior partner who practiced derivatives and I learned alongside him. At that time, Dodd-Frank had just passed, and I was attracted to the opportunity to gain expertise in an area of law that was rapidly evolving.
Who have been your role models and the most influential people in your career?
There are three: Sharon Bowen, former CFTC Commissioner; Paul Architzel, Partner at WilmerHale; and De’Ana Dow, Partner and General Counsel at Capitol Counsel. Sharon has been such an inspiration to me – not only her accomplishments but her commitment to mentorship and helping the underprivileged. Paul is the mentor I mentioned previously. He taught me how to be a derivatives attorney and encouraged me to establish my own career. De’Ana has been incredibly supportive. She is committed to helping young African-American attorneys reach their goals, and she has helped me tremendously with her mentorship and friendship.
How have things changed in terms of diversity and inclusion since you started working?
They have not really. The number of African-Americans in the rooms I occupy is still very low.
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What do you see as the biggest barriers to Black and ethnic minority professionals growing into leadership roles?
Unconscious bias. It is the unspoken, and often unknown, assumption that the African-American candidate is less knowledgeable, rational, wise, relatable, etc. It is difficult for non-African-Americans to see this themselves, but glaringly obvious when you are on the receiving end.
Limited access to high-level positions. The number of African-Americans in high-level positions is not commensurate with the number of talented African-Americans in the field. We can’t wait for social views to change – we need to take deliberate actions to move African-Americans into these roles.
Under-education. When you really grasp the headwinds that underprivileged African-Americans face in getting a quality education, it is a wonder that any get an education at all. African-American youth need support and mentorship to reach their goals.
Tell us one thing you hope for future generations
That they will not face the barriers to access that are prevalent now; that they will have equal access to an excellent education, and they do not have to be in the extreme minority to access that education. I hope that businesses continually assess how many African-Americans are prevalent at different levels of the organization, and if the numbers are reflective of inequity, that they take measures to combat the inequity.
Petal Walker, Special Counsel at international law firm WilmerHale, counsels financial market infrastructures, banks and intermediaries, as well as innovators in the digital space, on futures and swaps compliance and regulation. She joined WilmerHale in 2017 after serving as Chief Counsel for Commissioner Sharon Bowen at the CFTC, where she advised on policy and enforcement issues and served on the Market Risk Advisory Committee.