Race preferences at work

Hi guys:

I work at a fund, where the top guy seems to really prefer white people ( the location I'm at is predominantly white, especially in finance; I'm not) - he is white, and during my diligence before joining, an ex employee had hinted that to me, and shortly after I joined, a few at the fund have hinted about the in-groups/out-groups dynamics (based on race and family prestige /ties in our region) too.

My reviews are good, but I consistently get worse or less opportunities. I'm wondering if anyone else on this forum has encountered similar things. Would be curious on your thoughts.(I've already done the offer to help/check in with seniors on develop opportunities path); Has anyone dealt with this and can share insights on how I can make my experience better? There is a limited number of funds where I live , and I don't want to uproot my family (have a young family) and move elsewhere unless absolutely necessary. Thanks for your help.

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Comments (24)

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
Apr 27, 2020 - 11:31pm

I know I'm not the only minority in this forum... I'm not turning down moving, but I want to maximize my own time here. Thanks in advance

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Apr 27, 2020 - 11:40pm

Not sure what to do in this case. If you were at a BB, maybe even an EB, you could go to HR and have them get involved. But a PE firm's power structure is completely different. If you went to HR, and I'm assuming there's one HR person (maybe fully dedicated, maybe one of their many roles), it's not like they can fire a partner and if you're the only minority there he'll know you complained. I'd start looking at other firms.

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Ind
Apr 28, 2020 - 9:03pm

this is terrible advice. getting HR involved with no concrete evidence is the fastest way to make your team hate you

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Apr 28, 2020 - 9:18pm

Not sure if you actually read my comment but there was a strong implication of "don't go to HR". "It's not like they can fire a partner" as in nothing will happen and "he'll know you complained." Not sure where you get the idea that I recommended going to HR from

  • Incoming Analyst in IB - Gen
Apr 27, 2020 - 11:44pm

Get over it man, it probably lives inside your head- take this as an opportunity to start something of your own

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  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
Apr 27, 2020 - 11:49pm

For context, here are some hints I received from ex/current employees, for those who think it's in my head...

Ex/current employee 1 - This guy was an immigrant (think south of the border) with dark skin and very slight accent... came to US as a young kid so accent is very slight. His anecdote - the person would laugh and repeat what he says at meetings because "how can ppl understand him". It's written up as a joke.

I'm not white but I'm from here so no accent. I thought I can just doge it and do my best, but of course, it now manifests in different ways in my case.

Another hint was provided to me from a well meaning co-worker. Before I joined, there's a white female mid/senior level investor gunning for the same top position as another white guy (the top guy will decide which one of them to promote). The co-worker's commentary was - obviously she was not going to get it, she didn't stand a chance. But at the same time she's very well regarded in the fund (aside from this remark of obviously not going to get this position) - her deals have done well (from internal record) - but it seems from co-workers commentary that she's good but she's obviously not going to get it. Was a weird comment then but seems to make sense now.

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  • VP in PE - Other
Apr 28, 2020 - 10:03am

I'm going to tell you what good looks like so you stop questioning your situation. When I was in operations, in a leadership meeting, someone made a comment to the extent that "x ethnic group just isn't capable of understanding complex analytics." The CEO - former finance and PE guy, also white American - went Old Testament on this person. Called them after the meeting, told them they were an inch away from being fired, and required a phone apology to every member of the ethnic group that was on the call. Instituted a PIP for the person too. This was an irreplaceable SME... and the CEO told me later that the only reason he didn't fire them out of hand was labor laws in the location the person was based. Needless to say the person was scrutinized daily for appropriate behavior for the next THREE YEARS.

OK. Read that. Look at your situation. Racism is real, career-limiting, and utter bullshit. If the person at the top isn't willing to come down HARD, it will flourish and pervade the organization. Look for your next opportunity.

Apr 28, 2020 - 8:32pm

No one on here is going to be able to better evaluate your situation better than you (by which I mean, you are in the best position to evaluate whether this guy is really prejudiced and if so, whether that limits your career at current firm), and unfortunately, there isn't really a lot you can do to change things. You can't just "make your experience better" when the problem is for all intents and purposes not solvable - this sounds like a game you can't win (the only way to win is to not play in the first place).

Personally, if I even catch a hint of a direct superior negatively stereotyping me in any substantial way, I'm immediately thinking about leaving. To be fair though, I'm the type of person who cares way more about working with people I like over the actual job role/responsibilities

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Ind
Apr 28, 2020 - 8:57pm

I am a minority too( and a woman). I found a person who has the same story as me(coming from a foreign country and worked really hard etc), I asked to speak with one of MDs of another group after seeing her in a talk and asked her for advice (she knew my group heads so she gave me advice). I followed it and things are getting better.
another thing that may not be out of racism but completely unfair is that white people share almost same interests, men or women. Say it is super easy for other analysts to ask MDs about his fav team or game, ask a vp to go for a beer etc it happens spontaneously. if I ever try to do it, it is not as smooth. even when they say good morning how was your weekend and they both played golf or whatever. It might make you feel left out.
do not try to be someone you are not but prove yourself. prove yourself to be kind, hardworking, indispensable and also approachable. once you try to blend in, you will have the courage to go to your manager and be like:" I have much capacity and I want to contribute to your team".
do not leave unless you face racism explicitly, because this field is full of white people, you have to know how to stand up for yourself and earn your respect. that's it.

Apr 29, 2020 - 10:01am

Yea there is a lot of racism and sexism in finance, especially at firms that are small enough that they don't have to deal with too much external scrutiny. It is difficult when you are in a place where you may feel like you don't have many more options to up and move, especially if you feel like you are generally doing well and making good money.

I've been in a situation where I felt like I wasn't getting good opportunities (not necessarily overt racism-related, maybe just bias, who knows), and this is what I did to help improve my optics:

1) Be that person who is saying little things to move focus away from people's weird racist commentary. I.e. if that guy says "how can people understand him", you can joke like "oh well yea accents can be hard to understand it took me forever to understand a British accent" or be upfront about it "wow you guys are joking about someone's accent what is this the 50s". You can choose your path based on how strong you feel your own position is that you can distance yourself a little bit from that type of culture.

2) Also contingent on how much credibility you have, you can be that overeager person that does things like bringing in outside speakers - could bring in someone that talks about bias and racism or importance of diversity, in fundraising, etc. to slowly get the message across.

(Note with either of these actions, if you are rocking the boat too much and people think you are not pulling your weight re: strong work product, then you can risk alienating others from supporting you and allowing other people to discredit you further. So, take care).

3) Continue to build your network outside the firm. As an associate it is not too early to start building your network, go to networking events, talking to and spending time with counterparties, and find sourcing opportunities. (I.e. if you are sourcing a deal, they can't give that opportunity to somebody else). It builds your base of support outside of your firm and if you need to leave your firm it jumpstarts the conversations that you can have.

Good luck, ultimately it may be that this firm is not for you if they are not moving hard on racism. But in the meantime hopefully these tactics can help your current situation.

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
Apr 30, 2020 - 8:11am

OP here. Thank you for the helpful comments everyone! You've helped me see that leaving is the right thing and I'll start looking once I hit my one year mark here. Thank you, I'll pay it forward as long as I'm here.

Apr 30, 2020 - 8:17am

Sorry that you have this situation happen to you. That's a real pity and terribly unfair. I'll play a bit of devils' advocate - and it's hard to contradict your thought-out decision as it's a very personal choice. However 1 year somewhere is not ideal. You're going to have to answer for people why you left. "The boss was racist" is going to be an awkward and potentially dangerous thing to say. In a sense you may be punishing yourself for the boss' crime. I'd wait out 2 years, painful though it is, and try to find a good place to transition to.

Apr 30, 2020 - 9:41am

I'll devil's advocate the devil's advocate :-)

I think the 2-year-rule is something that was old when millennials entered the workforce and is - in this current era of job-hopping and gig economy workers - pretty outdated now. Especially with the timing and COVID-19, I think you could easily come up with a reasonable story about how the location, the role, or the expectations did not match well with what you needed. Plus, people tend to know what's up at other firms, and if this firm has a history of minorities leaving rapidly, believe me that will be quietly understood by all and sundry.

Definitely agree though - YOU should never be the one to utter one peep about racism. As you can see above, plenty of folks are victim-blamers when it comes to these things (also misogyny etc.). Just remember - as one minority to another - 50 years ago no one would have even employed us.

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
Apr 30, 2020 - 12:23pm

I'm intending to start recruiting after I finish my first full year, but given the market and how hard it is to fund PE role, I'll probably stay for ~2 years at the fund- does that timeline sound good?

Apr 30, 2020 - 10:16am

I find this a bit surprising, our PE unit deals with so many different countries/markets and nobody would ever make such a comment or joke. Especially not in a meeting.
PE in general has so many different partnerships and international investments.

regarding your situation: are you the only person who thinks like this? Has anyone else mentioned these comments or the situation before? If this is ingrained in the culture, I would make a move once another role opens up.

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