In Downturn, Networking Critical for Women of Color

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Today's downturn demands rethinking strategic relationships at work, especially for groups who are underrepresented in the financial world. But according to one recent study, the security industry's women of color lack strategic relationships at their firm.

Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit research and advisory organization focused on the issues impacting women in business, found hidden bias is a major reason for the lack of strategic relationships for women of color at U.S. securities firms. The report, which surveyed employees working at the top 10 (by revenue) financial firms, found subtle discrimination undermines work relationships, with women of color expressing unhappiness with managerial interaction and support, distribution of major client engagements, and access to influential mentors and business development opportunities.

The report recommended firms identify exclusionary practices, as well as hold managers accountable for creating opportunities for women of color. The study also noted overcoming stereotypes in the workplace remained essential, and firms needed to equip managers with wider knowledge about cultural experiences. Additionally, securities firms should perform regular assessments of diversity efforts to check their effectiveness, the report said.

Networking Advice

More than ever, strategic relationships are essential, observes Liz Lynch, founder of the Center for Networking Excellence in New York. Today's difficult environment means more people than ever will tap into their networks to make sure they can not only advance, but also hold onto their job when their firm is cutting back. Lynch notes that those in a professional network - where everyone is in the same sinking boat - should branch out. "Try groups outside of work and think about reconnecting with your alumnae association, volunteer or join a nonprofit," she says.

Many more professional women and women of color are networking at conferences and association meetings, says Lynch. "For the less confident professional, honing your communications and professional skills in a safe environment can certainly help you to come back to the male-dominated workplace," she adds. But if you're limiting your network to a women's group or an association for black professionals, you may be missing out on other opportunities. Women of color need to look for other networking opportunities at work and beyond. "You have to be prepared to take the next step," she says.

While cultural influences shouldn't hold a professional back, it's important for professionals to take a look at themselves. For example, says Lynch, "As an Asian woman, I was told after business school that I didn't talk up enough. I took a Dale Carnegie class and it helped."

Lynch advises women of color to remember that relationships at work are critical - critical to key posts, and to landing assignments with important clients. She reminds women of color to be flexible when it comes their mentor: He or she needn't necessarily be just like you. "Depending on the expertise or division in financial services, you simply may not be able to find someone who is exactly like you in your organization," she points out.

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