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Beyond Wolf of Wall Street: being a minority in the financial industry

The climate? Not hostile, but not welcoming

When you think investment banking or finance: you're probably imagining Leo Di Caprio snorting cocaine and making it rain with 100 dollar bills.

While some may wish this was the case, the reality is a little bit different. I was able to take a gap year during which I worked in an asset management firm. While the experience was invaluable and I learned a huge amount, I also realised something – I was by far in the minority. It’s not my height (standing at an intimidating 5ft 2) or my age (in the 18 to 24 bracket), it was the fact I was an ethnic minority and a female.

The majority of women still work in traditionally female roles, such as marketing, sales and secretarial work. (Please infer: potentially resulting in the exclusion of worthy candidates as a result of preconceived bias and social pressures.) I only came into contact with one major female fund manager, which isn't out of the ordinary considering that, on average, less than 30% of the industry's staff are women, and below 10% of fund managers are female. While there have been changes, including targeted events to increase the number of women, they are not having immediate effect. Furthermore, shockingly only 6% of major executive roles at top firms are held by ethnic minorities, with most working in back office and IT. When considering that around 13% of Britain is not “white-british”, this is hardly even close to representative.

These figures are damaging not only to the industry's reputation and credibility, but, most of all, to its future.

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This lack of representation could stem from the fact that finance and economics are historically white sectors, as the white upper-class had money beyond current consumption to invest, while labouring classes (including non-white communities) were not able to go beyond their daily needs. With allusions to the Ancient Greek philosophers, "old money" and freshly pressed Ted Baker suits, they remain a prevalent face of finance and banking. It is completely understandable that this industry retains such an elitist reputation.

Compounding this, the industry requires money and an affluent network. Events to meet top traders and CEOs often have strict guest lists – getting onto these can require a CV screen and reference. This simply perpetuates the cycle – to make connections you must already have connections. If you are not living in London, it becomes that much harder.

However, steps are being taken to aim to break this cycle. Networking events are universities are increasing access to industry professionals. Indeed, this problem of lack of minority representation cannot be solved without applicants and opportunities. If these groups (women and people of colour) do not apply, automatically we return to the same old mantra of “male, pale and stale”.