Race And The City

The London Paper  –  3 July 2009

A 2008 internal report by City regulator, the FSA, that was leaked last week suggested that the organisation had racist elements within it. Apparently, the N-word was used at one meeting without comment whilst a joke about a Muslim suicide-bomber was made at another.

This whole debacle got me thinking about why I encountered so few people from ethnic minorities during my 12 year City career. Sure there were black guys cleaning the toilets and serving food at the banks I worked at but the ´front office´ was at least 90% white. There were some Asian guys beginning to join the ranks (especially in the maths-based areas like derivatives) but of the perhaps 1000 stockbrokers, traders and fund managers who had the misfortune to cross my path maybe 30 were Asian and 10 were black. So the question is raised: is the City so white because it’s ´institutionally racist´ (as the police were once accused of being) or due to deeper socio-economic reasons?

Whilst a 100,000 word PhD thesis could be written on this tricky subject I’m going to try and explain in five points why I believe there is a noticeable absence of non-white faces on trading floors across the Square Mile:

1) Nepotism. I got my first job via my brother and many City boys I know got their foot in the door from an uncle, father or some other invariably white relative.

2) Education. Many City firms choose employees from Oxbridge or other similarly prestigious universities. I´m guessing that at Cambridge, at least when I was there 15 years ago, fewer than 1 in 100 students were black.

3) Racism. Whilst I rarely, if ever, heard overt racism at the four banks I worked at I have no doubt it exists. However, you never heard anything dodgy because there are strict rules preventing such abuse and losing your annual 500K bonus can focus the mind somewhat. Ironically, it may be the possibility of damaging lawsuits related to these rules that mean employing white men is unfortunately seen as a safer bet by most banks.

4) Aspiration. A City career appears not to be something that many ethnic minorities particularly aspire to. My conversations with Asian mates suggested they were encouraged by parents to become lawyers, doctors or dentists whilst City careers were seen as something \”alien\” and \”white\”. One black mate said that he´d \”rather be seen dead than wearing red braces shouting into a mobile at some flash wine bar\”!

5) Perception. Most importantly the City is viewed as a tight-knit club for white men and hence impossible to enter unless you fit those two criteria. This is the biggest issue and, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Brazil´s president recently said that today´s global recession was caused by people with ´blue eyes … and blond hair´ e.g. bankers. Whilst I think he was being a little simplistic the City has got to do what it can to lose its Aryan identity otherwise the same criticism will be levelled again when the next banking crisis occurs … and that´s just going to be another unwanted source of racial tension.

Thoughts ?

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