It has been taken as given: investment banks are bastions of the white male middle classes and must hire more women and ethnic minorities. But as diversity programmes proliferate, Caucasian men are crying foul.
It is difficult to deny that banks need to bring in more women and minority candidates, however. At Citigroup last year, 39% of UK graduate trainees were female, up from 24% in 2002. The discrepancy broadens with seniority: at Goldman Sachs, the proportion of female managing directors has crept up from 10% to 14% over four years.
Progress at rectifying the imbalance is slow. But faced with the barrage of women-only networking events, ethnic-minority scholarship programmes and female sports sponsorships, there are signs men are becoming peevish. David Ainscough, a careers adviser at Cambridge University, said: "Male students can feel slightly ill-served when special events are laid on specifically for women and ethnic minorities."
Students themselves are more robust in their criticism. An MBA student at London Business School said: "I'm absolutely certain women find it easier to get offers from investment banks. Most of the girls are asked in for informal interviews and chats the whole time. Men get none of that."
A male undergraduate member of the Oxford University Investment & Finance Society said banks are going too far in their attempts to attract women, claiming: "In the past, women might have been discriminated against in favour of men but the balance has now swung too far the other way."
Banks' efforts to inject diversity into their workforces start before students begin university, continue until they graduate and resume at business schools.
Sallyann Birchall, head of graduate recruitment at Deutsche Bank in London, believes the emphasis is on accessibility, saying: "We're reaching out to people who may not even have thought about investment banking. It's about opening the channels for them to reach us."
Officially, banks deny their diversity programmes do anything to give an advantage to the people they are intended to attract. Joanne Scott, head of graduate recruitment at Morgan Stanley in Europe, said programmes were aimed at increasing the pool of available talent, but made no difference to whether people in the pool are hired.
She said: "Our selection process is robust and competency-based, which makes it fair and ensures we select the right candidate for the role regardless of colour, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status or disability."
Lynne Fisher, managing director and head of diversity for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Citigroup, said the bank strived to find the best candidates, regardless of any discriminatory factors.
Recruiters, however, were more candid. The US head of campus recruitment at one bulge-bracket bank said minorities take priority, stating: "If it's a choice between two candidates who are roughly equal and one is a diversity candidate, I'd go for the diversity candidate every time. Everyone would but no one will admit that."
However, some European recruiters also tacitly admit to favouring minority candidates, claiming: "If we're trying to improve our diversity statistics and we get a good minority candidate, we'd go with him instead of a white candidate," said one.
The US recruiter said competition for talented minorities is so great the bank is employing a scout to unearth them before its rivals. Even personal meetings with the chairman are arranged to persuade wavering candidates to sign up.
He said: "We will pull out all the stops. Everyone is vying for those same candidates. The average African-American woman at a top MBA school with banking in her year-book receives 10 job offers. The average white woman receives eight and the average white male receives three to four."
At the root of the problem is the fact that relatively few women and even fewer Afro-Caribbeans are interested in investment banking careers. The 2005 UK graduate careers survey by High Fliers Research found only 31% of candidates interested in investment banking careers were women. Even fewer women attend top business schools: at Wharton in the US, only 35% of students are female and the London Business School's figure is 23%.
Faced with this limited pool of potential candidates, recruiters say some favouritism is inevitable. "Wharton has 1,200 résumés, 420 are women and only 60 are interested in banking. Everyone is going for them," said one.
Attempts are being made to rectify the problem. Morgan Stanley is considering broadening its range of European target universities to encompass the School of Oriental and African Studies, a part of London University with a higher than average number of ethnic minority students.
Christopher Morris, head of career management at Wharton, said organisations like 85-Broads, the alumni group for women who have worked at Goldman Sachs, are attempting to entice more women into business schools and then to increase their interest in investment banking.
In the meantime, banks have to make do with what they've got. Expect more murmurings of discontent from men in future.