A new work experience programme has been launched to encourage more black students to apply for top jobs in finance firms.
The aim is to break the pattern that has seen very low numbers of black staff hired by big finance companies.
Twenty Bristol employers have taken on 46 new interns, all of them black students, as part of the pilot.
“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 that have started work at the investment company Hargreaves Lansdown.
Mr Henry said he went to an assessment day recently at a different firm and found he was the only black person there out of 50.
“And everyone on the interview panel was a white male,” he said.
“Coming in to 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 modelled on a project in London started by four City executives including Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, an experienced financial services entrepreneur.
“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 $500bn under its advisement, but his success has been the exception to the rule.
He points to the key role of portfolio managers, one of the most coveted jobs in finance.
“These are the guys who actually 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 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 launched an even bigger internship programme for summer 2022.
Instead of 500 placements, they now have 2,000. It will run for five years, offering 10,000 internships, and it has spread from financial services to cover 20 sectors and 700 firms.
He said: “It’s huge, this is game-changing. Pretty soon you’ll see people who are black in positions of middle management and eventually of course in senior management, which is of course the aim.”
Bristol firms are also offering internships in 2022, as part of the 10,000 Black Interns programme. Applications are open now to black students across the UK.
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