A new work experience program has been launched to encourage more black students to apply for top positions in financial firms.
The goal is to break the pattern of hiring very few black employees by large financial firms. As part of the pilot, twenty Bristol employers hired 46 new interns, all of whom were black students.
“It’s a word from the industry to say we do want you, you are welcome,” said 22-year-old Bristol student Oren Henry. He is now one of three students who has begun working at the investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown.
Mr. Henry stated that he recently attended an assessment day at a different firm and discovered that he was the only black person there out of 50.”And everyone on the interview panel was a white male,” he said.
“Coming into that environment can be intimidating, a little bit scary. Schemes like this are important because they are inviting to black students.”
The Bristol scheme is based on a project launched in London by four City executives, including experienced financial services entrepreneur Dawid Konotey-Ahulu.
“I’ve often been the only black guy in the room,” he said. “I go to conferences, to summits, to meetings – and there’s just me.”
He founded a pensions advisory group with $500 billion under its management, but his success has been an outlier. He emphasizes the critical role of portfolio managers, one of the most sought-after positions in finance.
“These are the guys who manage the money,” explained Mr. Konotey-Ahulu.
“They are the top roles, like having a Formula 1 seat. And out of 3,000 of them, only 12 are black. It is shocking,” he said.
To address this, the four men organized a new work experience program for young black students, with the initial goal of securing 100 internships in top city firms. They contacted their contacts throughout the city and were soon able to secure 500 internships for the summer of 2021.
“Our WhatsApps and our Linked Ins are lighting up with people saying ‘I got a job. I didn’t know I was going to get it, but I got a job’,” he said.
In Bristol, senior management at Hargreaves Lansdown, the country’s largest digital finance firm, managing over £135 billion and employing 1,800 people, chose to participate as well.
Chris Hill, the company’s CEO, met with Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and other major corporations to work on a local project, and 20 Bristol employers offered internships to students of the Black Caribbean, Black African, or Black British heritage.
There are now lawyers, filmmakers, a sports firm, and even the Anglican Diocese of Bristol involved in the venture.
“We know that young black people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” said Anna Langdon, Hargreaves Lansdown’s senior talent manager.
“We wanted to do something that makes a difference, and one thing we know makes a difference is giving people good, paid well-structured work experience.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Konotey-Ahulu and his co-founders have just announced an expanded internship program for the summer of 2022. They now have 2,000 placements instead of 500. It will run for five years and offer 10,000 internships, and it has expanded from financial services to cover 20 industries and 700 businesses.
He stated: “It’s massive, and it’s game-changing. Soon, you’ll see people of color in middle management and, eventually, in senior management, which is the goal.”
As part of the 10,000 Black Interns program, Bristol firms will also be offering internships in 2022. Applications are now being accepted by black students all over the UK.