Subtle Impacts on Diversity Efforts

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Wall Street's troubles make diversity networks more critical than ever.

Certainly people are concerned about the shakeups going on in the finance world, says Ann Marquez, executive director of the New York chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting. However, diversity initiatives are still firmly in place at most financial firms, and that's not likely to change, she says. Of course, when layoffs are threatened and bonuses are slashed, networking organizations gain a higher relevancy for their members. "People are much more likely to attend events and receptions, given the job climate," notes Marquez.

"Diversity at financial firms has always been an issue, and it's not more of an issue now because of the market than it's been before," she says. "If a company is devoted to the issue and is handling its diversity programs well, then it's not going to change." However, she adds, "Those that aren't handling it well may use the markets as an excuse."

Defining Diversity

Of course, firms need to understand that diversity means not only having a diverse workforce, but also having minorities and women in the C-suite and other key positions of authority, says Marquez. Wanla Cheng, president of New York City-based Asia Link Consulting Group - a multicultural marketing and research firm which also consults on corporate diversity issues - puts it another way: "Are you talking about diversity across the management spectrum or simply at the bottom?" she says. "The organizations look more diverse at the bottom."

Nonetheless, Cheng also believes large financial firms are committed to addressing the diversity issue, and that "it's not just a trendy thing to do." For example, she suggests the workforce in financial firms may be more diverse than at advertising agencies or pharmaceutical firms.

Still, the subject is still one that can cause debate. A recent story on the Web site of Duke University's independent daily newspaper the Chronicle caused a stir by citing on-campus minority recruitment efforts by financial companies.

When people use the term "diversity," they generally mean recruitment efforts targeting African-Americans or Hispanics, Cheng says. "Today, Asian-Americans may be overrepresented at financial firms given their percentage in the population. But the real key here again is the job they hold," she says, and notes upper management posts continue to elude Asian Americans, as well.

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