Companies in the city have struggled to increase the number of black professionals in their ranks, despite ambitious promises after the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
Change has been slow. What little UK data is available shows that there is a shortage of black employees. At Barclays, 3.5% of its UK workforce are black, at HSBC, just 2.6%, a figure that drops to 1% at the top.
Cecil Peters, JPMorgan’s head of diversity and inclusion in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told Financial News that starting from the bottom is key: “If we’re just going to attract more people who can do the job today, we’re going to do it. just keep going hiring each other. We have to grow the pool.”
However, there are reasons for optimism. At Wells Fargo’s UK HQ, FN caught up with four emerging Black City professionals shortlisted for this year’s Black British Business Awards.
Tracey Ofori-Kumah, Sales and Trading, Wells Fargo
Tracey Ofori-Kumah had long had ambitions to work on the business floor, but when she graduated with a first-class degree in business and management from Brunel University in London, she found herself stuck with papers.
Despite passing the psychometric tests banks use to whittle down application numbers, the interviews went nowhere.
“A recruiter said I had the credentials, but my name was hard to pronounce,” she says. “The comments were very generic about why I didn’t make it, so I didn’t really understand why I was facing so many obstacles.”
Ofori-Kumah says she spent about a year trying to build networks that opened doors. Having a son at university instilled in her a drive to study hard and give her the best chance of landing a reception role.
He eventually landed a contract position working in compliance at Big Four accountancy firm Deloitte “through word of mouth”.
Ofori-Kumah says she faced some “inappropriate comments” from her colleagues during her time as a contractor.
“People would often say something like, ‘That top looks expensive, where did you get it?'” she says.
“And I change my hair reasonably often, so people would say, ‘Oh, last week your hair was short and now it’s long.’ Where’s your hair salon?” They felt like microaggressions that may have been because of my ethnicity.”
Nine months ago, Ofori-Kumah switched to equity sales trading at Wells Fargo, fulfilling her initial ambition after a decade in roles at various banks. She had worked on compliance projects at US Bank within its securities unit, developing relationships with unit managers who helped her transition to reception.
“I asked a lot of questions, learned about the business and was able to show the managers what I was capable of,” he says. “When people just leave your name and resume, it felt like one of the reasons I struggled to get my foot in the door for so many years.”
Natalie Ojevah, Program Director, Barclays
Earlier this year, Natalie Ojevah was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honors list aged 27 for services to diversity and inclusion. Ten years ago, he worked as a teller at his local Barclays branch in Woolwich, south London, after winning a place on their apprenticeship scheme.
Ojevah says she has always had big ambitions – she said during her apprenticeship interview that she eventually wanted to become chief executive of Barclays – but a family bereavement when she was 17 prompted her to go straight to work and not at university.
Two years later, she was accepted onto a Barclays in-house degree programme, studying business management and leadership at Anglia Ruskin University. This has fueled his career over the past five years, as Ojevah left retail banking and took up a role within Barclays Eagle Labs, a program to help entrepreneurs and local businesses.
Ojevah, the first in her family to go to university, was eligible for free school meals. When he joined the bank, he realized that he had few black colleagues.
“There has been an increase in junior positions, but we need to see more directors and general managers,” he says. “It’s great that we’re having more conversations about it, but there’s a lot more to do.”
Ojevah was instrumental in launching Barclays Eagle Labs’ focus on black founders, after highlighting its challenges internally. In June, she was promoted to lead its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
This year she was promoted to vice president, and is currently looking to become a director and then a managing director. “I wouldn’t say I don’t want to be CEO,” he adds. “It’s probably a little more realistic now than it was 10 years ago.”
Vincent Egunlae, Deputy Director, Strategic Leadership, Grant Thornton
Vincent Egunlae, a 27-year-old assistant manager in Grant Thornton’s strategic leadership team, has no illusions that his choices as a teenager could have led him down an irreversible path.
“You do things without wanting to, because you think it’s normal, like smoking weed,” he says, reflecting on his upbringing on a council estate in Highbury and Islington, north London. The older kids who ran around the estate with drugs and guns became “normal” too.
His father was not present, so he admired this crowd.
“There were times when I was asked to carry a knife for someone,” he says. “That was so stupid. I don’t consider myself different. I’ve just been luckier.”
He attended Nottingham University after getting good A-levels, but says it was a culture shock when he met peers from wealthier backgrounds: “I didn’t understand what it meant to be rich before.”
He finished with a second degree in politics and international relations. It motivated Li to enroll in a master’s degree in international business, from which he graduated with a first-class degree in 2017.
“I’ve really come to understand that hard work always beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, so since then I’ve put my best into everything I do,” he says.
Egunlae now has a career at one of the top six accounting firms, but also works to open doors for children from poorer backgrounds, like the neighborhood where he grew up.
With three friends from college, he helped found The Open Private School, which exposes 16-18-year-olds to mentorships and networks in business and finance that promise a pathway to City careers.
“The idea is to offer opportunities that private-educated students have to public-educated students, to narrow the gap at the top,” he says.
He has also started the first Grant Thorton Ethnic Network in the UK and has taken on leadership roles in the community, working as a non-executive director at Capital City College Group, a higher education group in London.
“This is very important. No one should have to go through what I did. That’s one of the things that motivates me.”
Simeon Greaves, Associate Director, Wealth Management, Coutts
It wasn’t long ago that a suit and tie was considered too casual for employees at Coutts, the private bank that manages the British royal family’s money (it insisted that its male employees wear frock coats until the late 1990s).
Wealth manager Simeon Greaves is determined to overturn this stale and outdated image.
Greaves is black and gay, and breaking barriers at Queen’s Bank is a personal ambition for the Durham University economics and politics graduate.
“Thinking about what we put ourselves in, thinking about who is a wealth manager, who is a private banker, which institutions and the City Council have told us in the past what this person is like… and challenging these ideas, I think it creates a lot more inclusive space”, he says.
He remembers being told by his mother, a nurse, to cut his hair in dreadlocks before he started working at Coutts. Greaves thought it would be fine, as long as it was clean.
“Very often, as ethnic minorities, we thought we had to settle. We think we have to dilute ourselves … to fit the expected reality of what that person should be,” she says.
Greaves says a good understanding of people’s goals and ambitions is key when managing wealth, but adds he can “read” when a client doesn’t expect their Coutts banker to be like them.
“Funnily enough, it’s also motivating, because then I’m like, ‘Well, I’m going to show you that even though I’m young, even though I’m black, even though I’m gay, you’re going to love me.’
Before starting, Greaves’ extended family asked him if he would be happy working at Coutts; what they really wanted to know was how it would fit. Greaves admits he had to struggle with whether he could be his “authentic self” at the Bank.
“I put it out into the world in how I act and what I do inside the bank. This, for me, is living authentically”, he says.
To contact the authors of this story with comments or news, please email Paul Clarke and Penny Sukhraj