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Investment banks urged to improve diversity in recruitment

Britain’s top investment banks have been urged by campaigners to stop being “elitist” and hire more staff from diverse backgrounds.

They have called for City firms to take candidates from less privileged families who do not have expensive suits or posh accents.

It comes after a report found recruitment in the industry “set up barriers for individuals from non-privileged backgrounds” and favour graduates who have wealthy or famous parents or attended private schools.

The study by the Social Mobility Commission said people with first-class degrees are being “locked out” from jobs if they wear brown shoes, look uncomfortable in a suit or have the wrong “aura”.

One British-Asian finance worker in London, who wished to remain anonymous, told Eastern Eye that promotion is hard for ethnic minorities from low income backgrounds.

She said: “The finance sector do hire a lot of Asians, however the chances for a promotion are always slim.

“Even if I go out to build a rapport with senior colleagues, give them a chance to know me better, I still won’t be able to make the impression they’re looking for. Because I don’t drink, I’ll be excluded from social events.

“Regardless of who is more capable of doing the job doesn’t doesn’t always hold as much importance as it should.

“People from low income backgrounds can’t always afford to be suited and booted. Especially if you come from a more deprived background where having a roof on your head is the priority – the job is a means of keeping that roof.”

The Socio-Economic Diversity in Life Sciences and Investment Banking report, published last week, said 34 per cent of new entrants to banking attended a fee-paying school, rising to almost 70 per cent in the private equity sector.

And over 50 per cent of bank bosses in the UK were educated privately, while 65 per cent of employees went to a fee-paying school and Oxford University.

One interviewee told the report’s researchers it was easy to spot candidates from non-privileged backgrounds.

“From my experience [they] … don’t have a haircut… their suit’s always too big… they don’t know which tie to wear.”

Grace Mehanna, campaign director for the Business in the Community group, told Eastern Eye: “If investment banks are interested in keeping up with a changing world, then their recruitment methods need to catch up.

“This means advertising their roles to a broad base of applicants, being more transparent about their criteria for selection and ensuring that young people are not excluded on the basis of the way they look, their postcode, informal networks or lack of previous experience.

“Businesses have a responsibility to break down barriers to recruitment, but also to take a long-term holistic approach to social mobility, starting with inspiring young people while they are in education to understand the opportunities in the world of work and how to access them.”

Charlotte Sweeney is Harvard University’s Global Leadership award winner and has written a guide called Inclusive Leadership, which is out this month.

The diversity expert told Eastern Eye that companies should focus on the talent of potential workers rather than just their A-level grades and degree.

“As someone who left school at the age of 16 in Yorkshire and progressed to a senior position in investment banking, the examples shared are all too true – even 25 years after leaving school, it was an issue for some that I hadn’t been to university.

“I have seen numerous examples where intern opportunities were given to client’s children rather than broadening the search for potential future talent – this is where the elitist network plays a part.

“Many banks continue to focus their graduate recruitment energies on the top universities within the country. There has been an increased focus on engaging with Russell Group universities, which include Leeds, York, Manchester and Sheffield, but more needs to be done.

“Investment banks should monitor where they are hiring the graduates from, as well as their performance once in role.”

In July, 72 City firms signed up to a charter to link bonuses to the appointment of senior women and pledged to set targets for gender diversity in management, publish progress reports annually and hire an executive to take charge of their strategy.

The move came after a survey in 2015 found that workplace diversity was rated as “important” or “very important” by 59 per cent of investment bankers.

At the bottom of the list were insurance sector staff with 39 per cent rating diversity as “important”, according to recruiters Astbury Marsden.

The British Banking Association said firms are improving recruitment. A spokesman said: “The banking industry has made significant strides to improve social mobility at all levels but recognises that we can’t afford to be complacent.”