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Where are the Black People in Finance?

Racism in the modern workplace has gone underground. It has become part of the plumbing that goes unnoticed, yet remains a core component of the overall system.

I’ve worked in finance for 20 years. I could probably count the number of black men and women I’ve worked with using my two hands.

The number of black people in middle manager or senior roles? I’d only need one hand to count them.

8.9% of the Toronto population is black. Yet, the representation in the managerial and executive ranks of the Canadian finance industry is much less than 8.9%.

Systemic exclusion in the finance industry

I haven’t witnessed any blatant discrimination based on race. Quite the opposite – all of the financial institutions I’ve worked for had strict HR policies prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. Every year, most institutions make all their employees go through some form of online training to avoid these issues.

So where are the black people in finance?

Note the first sentence two paragraphs above: “I haven’t witnessed any blatant discrimination based on race.” I think 90% of people in my industry would say the same. This results in a paradox – the issue of systemic racism in the workplace is made worse because most people don’t think an issue even exists. This is a big problem because it causes people to misunderstand what’s actually happening.

Racism in the modern workplace has gone underground. It has become part of the plumbing that goes unnoticed, yet remains a core component of the overall system. Given the lack of black representation, it is fair to conclude that there exists some form of systemic discrimination in the world of finance. However, since it is systemic it is less visible and more persistent.

Don’t believe me? Next time you see a financial institution posting on social media about racial inclusion, take a look at that company’s board of directors and executive team. You’ll be hard pressed to find a single black, East Asian or South Asian person.

The system is set up against black people

One might argue that black people simply don’t even try to enter the world of finance, explaining why there is such little representation at the executive level. But why would they want to?

While it’s true that black people shouldn’t technically be discriminated against during the hiring process, there are plenty of other excuses for why a black person might not ‘fit the job requirements’ – aka ‘the mold’. Faced with this reality, many choose to avoid the industry altogether.

In contrast, white anglo-saxon protestants can drunk-stumble into finance jobs because their parents set them up, their friends work in the industry and they simply fit the mold. There is a finance archetype. Anyone outside of that clique needs to work extra hard to get in only to compete with people who were born with an advantage. So why the fuck would a black person even want to join that world in the first place? Who plays a game knowing the deck is stacked against them?

Since they don’t fit the mold, black people who do get into finance likely face – at a minimum – unconscious bias. While I haven’t seen anyone officially miss out on a promotion because of their race, I’ve seen it happen because people don’t fit the mold. The deviations from the mold can be very minor – someone’s attitude, mannerisms, clothing, hair, etc. stray 10% from the archetype. So if that archetype includes white skin, wouldn’t that be considered systemic racism?

It’s very hard to pinpoint an actual racist action within these modern corporations. However, I can tell you it’s happening by matter of deduction. But it’s done in a way that is so subtle even those perpetrating the discrimination probably don’t realize it.

Many executives subconsciously feel the finance industry is for outgoing, thin, clean cut white kids with well-off parents who could afford to send them to expensive universities and connect them with jobs. It’s these expectations of what’s normal that create an exclusionary environment for anyone that doesn’t fit the mold.

Most corporate leaders would argue vehemently they aren’t ‘racist’. Yet, this is what makes racism ‘systemic’. It’s often not a cold, conscious decision by an individual – it’s part of the process. It’s part of the ugly system.

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