Financial world’s ethnic equation

It is not easy being a woman on Wall Street. And it’s even harder being a woman of colour. According to new research from Catalyst, the non-profit group that aims to expand opportunities for women in business, those belonging to racial minority groups face greater challenges than white women in developing trusting relationships with their managers in the financial services industry.

The research was presented last week at a seminar sponsored by Goldman Sachs. The investment bank runs a programme, known as Brokering Change, which includes two seminars a year focused on improving the professional fortunes of Asian, black, Hispanic and native American women in the financial sector.

I spoke with Katherine Giscombe, vice-president of diverse women and inclusion research at Catalyst, about the findings. Giscombe says negative stereotyping and exclusion from influential networks can shape the ways in which minority women experience the workplace. This limits access to trusting, mentoring relationships with their bosses.

Giscombe told me:

“Their race and gender is a double whammy.”

The research, which included perspectives from both minority women and white male managers, also found women of colour have especially narrow networks in their industries. A slim professional network is often associated with a greater inclination to leave an organisation and lesser commitment to a company.

Giscombe said:

“Our recommendation is that [multicultural women] work harder at building relationships across function and across groups. It’s exciting to present research that is actionable. Women can use this to further their careers, and it’s empowering.”

At the same time, though, the onus is not just on the individual woman, she says:

“Managers, for example, can serve as role models. They can encourage more openness with employees by disclosing, say, mistakes they’ve made in the past that weren’t the end of the world.”

Candid admissions like these will increase open and honest communications between the boss and subordinate.

“They also need to make the work environment as inclusive as possible. They need to make sure that talented people of colour – particularly women – are not overlooked for highly visible assignments. They need to guard against biases.”

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He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

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