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Lack of Strategic Relationships Impacts Advancement of Women of Color in U.S. Securities Firms

Understanding hidden biases and unique challenges facing different groups of women of color key to developing effective diversity and inclusion policies and programs

Advancing and retaining women of color in securities firms can best be achieved by understanding the unique experiences they face, according to Women of Color in U.S. Securities Firms, the third report in Catalyst’s landmark Women of Color in Professional Services Series. This study identifies how firms can evaluate, develop, and execute truly effective programs by examining “intersectionality,” the juncture between race/ethnicity, gender, and birth country, and its impact on the advancement of women of color in the workplace. Moreover, the study says, it is a business imperative, as the percentages of Latinas, black women, and Asian women pursuing business and graduate degrees increases and the number of international students enrolling in top U.S. business schools expands.

“It is critical for securities firms to understand the differences in employee experiences and perceptions, particularly in today’s challenging economic climate,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & Chief Executive Officer of Catalyst. “Black women, Latinas, and Asian women have vastly different work experiences based on their own unique cultures, backgrounds, and lifestyles.  Recognizing that women of color are not a monolith and addressing these differences when developing diversity programs will not only benefit employees but also allow employers to fully leverage all talent.”

The report finds that women of color experience exclusion from key workplace relationships.  They were more likely to be dissatisfied with overall managerial interaction and support, distribution of key client engagements, access to influential mentors, and access to business development opportunities. These disadvantages ultimately impact a firm’s ability to benefit from the talent that women of color bring to the work environment.

Catalyst recommends the following suggestions to build a work environment that would attract and retain women of color and enable them to spend less time overcoming stereotypes and more time contributing to organizational performance:

  • Educate employees on the intersecting identities of women of color and how biases and subtle discrimination can lead to exclusion from informal networks and relationships.
  • Identify exclusionary practices in communication materials, behaviors, and unwritten rules, and create an approach to inclusion that accounts for race, gender, and ethnicity and birth country.
  • Ensure managers are equipped with the knowledge of differences in experiences and perceptions of diverse employee groups and use them to assist in overcoming barriers to advancement.
  • Hold managers and leaders accountable for identifying development opportunities for qualified women of color.
  • Conduct regular assessments to make sure diversity efforts address the distinctive experiences and challenges women of color face. 

The Women of Color in Professional Services Series underscores the commitment to examining the experiences and perceptions of women of color in the workplace. First conducted in the 1990s, Catalyst’s pivotal research on women of color sparked a national dialogue and continues to encourage businesses to turn their attention towards making their work environments more inclusive of all women.

Morgan Stanley is the lead sponsor of Women of Color in U.S. Securities Firms, and Goldman, Sachs & Co. is the partnering sponsor. Learn more about this report as well as other Catalyst research on women of color and visible minorities. For media inquiries, please contact Serena Fong at 646-388-7757, [email protected], or Jeff Barth at 646-388-7725, [email protected].

For the quantitative portion of the study, a survey tool was distributed to a sample (described in the report) of employees at the top ten largest (by revenue) financial services firms in the United States. Participating firms fielded the web survey between February 2007 and June 2007, and the surveys were open for two to four weeks at each firm. The survey was sent to a total of 5,300 individuals, and a total of 1,873 responded, for an overall response rate of 35.3 percent. For the analyses in this report, we used data from the 955 front office/client-service employees.

Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and more than 400 preeminent corporations as members, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women’s advancement with the Catalyst Award.