Mod note (Andy): WSO top comments - this one is from the post in response to diversity in investment banks. Click here to see more top rated comments
You asked why there isn't more diversity on the street given that only 'average talent' is required. Here are my thoughts.
We define diversity too narrowly. Race is not the only lens. We should also think about it in socioeconomic terms. Students from under-resourced communities are from every race. A lot of people immediately think "diversity" equals "black", but there are Hispanic, Asian, and white students suffering from educational inequity as well. Some won't be helped by diversity recruiting initiatives.
You have to have a complete package to get hired. Let's look at what that means for banking recruiting:
relevant knowledge (interview prep)
education (brand-name schools preferred)
Those elements may change in proportion to each other between candidates, but they're all in the mix. Lower socioeconomic status (SES) students typically under-perform on most of those dimensions.
a: Such students are less likely to enjoy the family or friendship connections that make networking less of a brutal hustle to get a foot in the door and more of a "Hi Uncle Jack's golfing buddy, remember me? I'd like a job."
b: I am going to be careful with this one given how much of a hot topic it is. Suffice it to say that for a whole host of reasons, such students are statistically less likely to perform well in school (regardless of how your political views may shape what you think the reason for that is).
c: Such students are less likely to have internships or extracurriculars. This may intersect with the two prior points. If you don't know someone who can help you get an internship, you're less likely to take one. Similarly, if you don't have someone who will tell you how important it is to get one in the first place, you're less likely to seek one out. Likewise, if you don't have good grades, you're less likely to get a competitive internship in the first place, even if you are motivated or aware enough to apply.
d: If you come from an under-resourced community, you are less likely to know how to identify the best resources to use to prepare for your target career.
e: Students from under-resourced communities tend to experience educational inequity, meaning they are less likely to have access to the same quality of instruction, the same level of safety and stability in their years of primary and secondary education, and the same variety and quality of extracurricular opportunities. As a result, they perform more poorly in primary school, leading to limited secondary school options (no merit entrance to elite private or magnet public schools), leading to poorer results in the college application process (whether by rejection from elite schools applied to or a self-selection to apply to less elite schools). It is a cumulative effect.
Summary: kids from a low-SES background are less likely to have as strong a profile (based on the basic banking recruiting formula) as kids from better-resourced backgrounds will.
I can speak from experience here. Minority communities don't tend to think of finance as a remarkably special or prestigious career.
A lot of smart black and Hispanic kids at good schools focus on prepping for law school or med school so they can be a doctor, lawyer, or enter public service. Many of the most successful, historically admired, and prominent minority figures in our nation's history were lawyers, civil rights activists, politicians, or doctors. The black community, for instance, puts a lot of prestige on those fields, so naturally all the academically smart kids tend to gravitate in those directions. As a result, the very type of kid most likely to succeed in the banking recruiting process may wind up not choosing to pursue it.
This self-selection automatically reduces the number of minority kids you see in finance. Fewer kids trying means fewer kids succeeding and breaking in.
Our innate human behavior is fascinating. We all operate on lizard-brain processes from time to time. Hiring is a great example.
Resonance is key. People hire people who they like, who look like themselves, who remind them of something comfortable and familiar ... even if all that happens subconsciously.
In short, the person in a position to hire them is biologically wired to not want to hire them. It's an unspoken but powerful influence.
A white guy from Bergen who went to Lawrenceville before Yale before getting his MBA at Wharton is not going to see much of himself in a black kid who grew up in Detroit, got a merit scholarship to UMich, is carrying a 3.4 at Ross, and isn't in a fraternity.
On the other hand, the kid from another county in North Jersey who caddied at that guy's country club as a teenager and now attends Wharton undergrad has all kinds of thing in common with the banker: shared locale, social stratum, fellow Whartonite, mutual common acquaintances, etc.
It may not be a conscious thought process, but even without really thinking about it the interviewer probably just feels more strongly convinced the second guy can do the job better than the first, even if their GPA is the same.
It's science; we're drawn to those similar to ourselves.
It's important to note that this doesn't just affect minorities; it affects low-SES status applicants more broadly. A white kid from Camden who hustled to get a scholarship to Rutgers and is cold-networking withto turn some people off with his Jersey street accent, and that kid gets left out of the diversity recruiting pipeline even though he faced identical economic and educational disadvantages.
One of my friends is from West Virginia. He had that strong Appalachia drawl, and despite coming out of an Ivy with strong grades and starting at a top bank, found that he was getting staffings that didn't require him to ever meet management. He struck out in, and I honestly think it was because people thought he was some dumb hick. That isn't fair. Turns out he's done really well once he got into a public credit hedge fund seat; he doesn't have to meet people, so his performance can do all the talking.
Comments unrelated to your original question: you shouldn't be so preoccupied with wondering why things are the way they are and simply focus on what lies ahead of you.
a: Worry less about what others think. Be humble, be hardworking, and win people over. That means that in your networking and interviews, you need to prove you are likable and capable. It's that simple. If you successfully and convincingly portray that you will get hired somewhere: white, black, yellow, brown, purple, or orange ... rich or poor ... similar background or not.
b: Prepare yourself. Study hard, be informed and knowledgeable, and crush interviews. Worry less about the background noise and you do everything within your control to make sure you maximize any opportunity put in front of you.
c: Be smart. Once you get in, be aware of the things that will affect you. It sucks, but make sure you're smiling, pleasant, cheerful, and patient. Someone may be biased against you without even really knowing it, so the onus is on you to be above reproach in both your attitude and work product.
It can truly be culturally ingrained into them, no matter how loudly they claim they aren't bigoted or judgmental. Make sure you are aware of the way perceptions can harm you, and work actively to prevent anything from blowing up on you.
You can do anything you set your mind to. Be a worker. Put your head down and work. Be smart, but just work.