A new work experience programme has been launched to encourage more black students to apply for top jobs in finance 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 want you, you’re welcome,” said Oren Henry, a 22-year-old Bristol student.
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 every single person on the interview panel was a white male,” he added.
“Coming into that environment can be intimidating, even frightening. Schemes like this are important because they make black students feel welcome.”
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 frequently been the only black guy in the room,” he explained. “I attend conferences, summits, and meetings – and it’s just me.”
He founded a pensions advisory group with $500 billion under its management, but his success has been an outlier.
He emphasises the critical role of portfolio managers, one of the most sought-after positions in finance.
“These are the guys who actually manage the money,” Mr Konotey-Ahulu explained.
“They are the highest-level positions, comparable to having a Formula One seat. And only 12 of them are black out of 3,000. It’s horrifying “He stated.
To change that, the four men organised a new work experience programme for young black students, initially aiming to secure 100 internships in top city firms.
They called their contacts across the city and soon had 500 internships secured 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, now the biggest digital finance firm in the country, managing over £135bn and employing 1,800 people, chose to get involved too.
The company’s chief executive, Chris Hill, met with Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees and other big firms to work on a local project and 20 Bristol employers offered internships to students of Black Caribbean, Black African or Black British heritage.
It is more than just finance now, there are lawyers, film-makers, a sports firm and even the Anglican Diocese of Bristol involved.
“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 really good, paid, well-structured work experience.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Konotey-Ahulu and his co-founders have just announced an expanded internship programme 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 colour in middle management and, eventually, in senior management, which is the goal.”
As part of the 10,000 Black Interns programme, Bristol firms will also be offering internships in 2022. Applications are now being accepted from black students all over the UK.