Ethnic participation has a long way to go

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Diversity - the new name for equal opportunities - is the latest buzzword among financial services employers.

Led by the big American banks, which are obliged by law to have diversity policies in the US, European employers are taking a closer look at their track record in employing staff from ethnic min-orities. It isn't good.

Firm statistics are hard to come by as banks are loath to disclose the ethnic breakdown of their workforces.

But the anecdotal evidence is compelling. Although Asian faces are not uncommon, one can look long and hard for Afro-Caribbean or Afro-American faces among the professional staff of investment banks.

'Asians are comparatively well represented but Afro-Caribbeans are hugely under-represented,' confirms Patrick Pinnock, a diversity consultant who has advised both JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs in London.

Change is coming, says Pinnock, but very slowly, with many still paying only lip service to the idea of a diverse workforce.

One of the issues raised at JP Morgan's diversity event, the first hosted by the bank in the UK and attended by representatives of around 20 recruitment agencies, was the dearth of candidates, with agencies chasing the same few people.

The solution, says Chris Myant, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Racial Equality (CRE), is for banks to develop a good graduate recruiting system.

Even this has its problems, however. Minority groups are more loosely organised in the UK than in the US, says Tom Bain, managing director of JP Morgan's markets division and a strong proponent of diversity.

That makes it harder for well-intentioned employers to get advice or put a message across within a community.

In the US, he points out, there is a long-standing programme of recruiting black interns early in their college careers to increase the chances of their returning each summer and eventually seeking employment with the bank.

The US National Black MBA Association opened an office in London in the spring, but its remit here remains unclear.

Among home-grown organisations is the African and Caribbean Finance Forum, which runs an annual recruitment fair and summer school for disadvantaged inner-city children and is sponsored by, among other companies, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Citibank.

The Windsor Fellowship, meanwhile, organises internships for people from ethnic minorities and counts Goldman Sachs as one of its biggest financial services sponsors.

What is driving employers to espouse the virtues of diversity is both the fear of litigation and the desire to win out in the talent war. 'At the end of the day, the financial community has to realise it lives in a global marketplace where the best talent can come from people of any culture,' says Beverly Bernard, chief executive of the Windsor Fellowship and deputy chair of the CRE.

From a legal point of view, warns Naomi Feinstein, an employment lawyer at Lovells, if an employer is sued for racial discrimination, it is on a losing wicket in a tribunal if it doesn't have anti-discrimination policies in place and cannot demonstrate that managers have been trained in implementing them.

Few race discrimination cases actually get as far as the courts. In a small environment like the City of London, people fear the publicity their case will receive and the effect on their future employment chances.

'Often in the case of race discrimination claims, out-of-court settlements are in both the employers' and the employees' interests,' says Anne Nicholson, an employment lawyer at Fox Williams, which often represents individuals in such cases.

The CRE's Myant says: 'City of London Institutions want to treat the area of race relations with a hide-in-the-corner approach. But, in fact, companies have nothing to fear from properly based employment policies.'

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