Amid calls for more diversity and inclusion, a Black UCLA student seeks a place in the financial industry

Kenny Haywood checks in at the Academic Advancement Program office on Feb. 1. Haywood, a senior at UCLA majoring in economics, hoped to get a job in finance before spring. In 2020, the CEO of Wells Fargo claimed that the bank's lack of diversity in leadership stemmed from a "very limited pool of Black talent."
  • The number of Black staffers in the financial industry has budged little in recent years.
  • Black employees comprise 10% of entry-level workers in financial services while representing 3% of C-suite executives.
  • Racial equity in the financial space is important given the industry's widespread impact on the economy.

During his time at UCLA, Kenny Haywood networked with alumni, landed a prime summer internship, and applied for dozens of positions to kick-start a career in finance. 

So by winter, as he approached the end of his senior year, Haywood, 21, said there wasn't much more he could do but wait.     

As a young Black man trying to get a foothold in an industry that says it wants to increase equity but remains largely white, Haywood, an economics major, was optimistic. 

"There (are) so many more diversity initiatives for helping Black and brown kids get into internships ... and just more opportunities available,'' he said near the start of the new year, adding that he'd heard back from a handful of potential employers who were interested in proceeding to the next step. 

But he was nervous, too, worrying that the many other students vying for jobs may have beaten him to the entry-level opportunities that are out there. As much as I am still hopeful, I do get a little anxious sometimes,'' Haywood said. "There is a lingering thought ...' Am I too late? Did I miss the window?' I hope things come up soon.’’

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Haywood is entering an industry where the number of Black staffers has budged little in recent years and falls precipitously between the entry-level and upper rungs of senior leadership. 

It is also an industry that has been heavily criticized for lending practices that have hindered, exploited or harmed Black and brown communities. A recent Bloomberg report found that Wells Fargo approved 47% of Black homeowners who attempted to refinance in 2020 compared with 72% of white applicants, and Black mortgage holders were approved for refinancing at lower rates than white borrowers by all major lenders.

In the wake of the national reckoning on racial injustice spurred by the killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans, the financial sector is one of the industries under pressure to change policies that exclude or unfairly disadvantage marginalized communities.

Critics are calling on financial service companies, so central to the nation's economy and the building of wealth, to employ workers that better reflect an increasingly diverse customer base. Tensions around that lack of representation were laid bare in 2020 when Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf told staffers in a memo that “there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from’’ for senior executive roles, sparking an uproar.

Scharf apologized for the comment, and since then, Wells Fargo and several other financial institutions have increased or expanded initiatives they had underway to make their workforces more inclusive and increase investments in  Black and Hispanic communities. 

But Black employees remain underrepresented, particularly in the upper tiers of the nation's financial firms, and industry watchers say there continues to be a pressing need to better retain and promote Black staffers as well as other people of color.  

"There still needs to be tremendous progress made to support Black talent in financial services,'' says Ishanaa Rambachan, partner at McKinsey & Company.

Haywood's journey is just beginning.  

"I’m doing everything on my part in terms of having my degree, being able to advocate for the skills that I have, and bringing my fair share'' to the table, he says. 

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On a typical fall evening, Haywood had a mountain of assignments to wade through after getting home from his part-time job at the campus gym.

Then there were activities to complete as he pledged the fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma. And in between, Haywood had to tackle perhaps the most stressful task of all: trying to find a full-time job and launch his professional career.   

“When I first started my job search back in September, I just didn’t really have a true idea of what that looked like, nor how much effort it would be,'' he says. "As much as it’s like applying for college, there are a whole lot more layers to it.’'      

For weeks, he'd hit the send button and feel like his emails were getting lost in a flood of queries from other applicants. Or worse, he thought, they were disappearing into a void. “Nothing promising was happening,’’ he says.

Kenny Haywood checks in at the Academic Advancement Program office on Feb. 1. In 2020, the CEO of Wells Fargo claimed that the bank's lack of diversity in leadership stemmed from a "very limited pool of Black talent."

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Haywood quickly realized it wasn't enough to click on search sites like Handshake or LinkedIn every few days to see if he'd had any requests or to send his resume to a handful of companies at a time. If he was going to find a job, he had to be more diligent. He decided to focus even more on his job search during his already jam-packed days.

"It's like, 'All right, now it’s time to put in the work so your future self can benefit from where you are right now,''' he says.

To get more guidance on how to land interviews, Haywood reached out to a mentor, Lizzie Azran, whom he'd met when he was chosen to participate in a financial scholars program during the summer of 2021. He polished his cover letters and tweaked his resume.

And to make sure his nerves didn't get the best of him during an interview, he practiced his elevator pitch constantly, spontaneously reciting it to himself while doing his job at the campus gym.

By the new year, "it all started coming together," he says, noting that he was looking forward to a couple of potential meetings or interviews in the next few days. "I've been putting in a lot of extra work so at this point I'm hopeful the dominos line up.''

Kenny Haywood checks in at the Academic Advancement Program office on Feb. 1. Haywood, a senior at UCLA majoring in economics, was aiming to land a job in finance before the end of the school year.  In 2020, the CEO of Wells Fargo claimed that the bank's lack of diversity in leadership was the result of a "very limited pool of Black talent."

How many Black people are in financial services?

Racial equity in the financial space is particularly important given the industry's widespread impact on the economy, according to a September 2020 report from McKinsey & Company and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. After all, financial companies create mortgages, business loans and funding for other projects.

"Representation in financial services is especially effective for achieving equity, since the sector has control over capital and assets that yield outsize power and influence over markets, the business landscape, and entrepreneurship,'' the report said. "Therefore, companies have significant work left to do to ensure people of color will have an equal opportunity to be successful in the workplace." 

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The share of Black employees in financial services companies plummets as they move up the corporate ladder, dropping nearly 70% between jobs at the entry-level and the C-suite, according to McKinsey, whose analysis of the industry includes asset managers, insurers and other financial institutions, along with banks. 

Black employees comprise 10% of entry-level workers in financial services while making up 13% of the overall U.S. population. And they represent only 3% of executives in the sector's C-suites, according to McKinsey.

“I think we are a long way from parity,'' says Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, professor and senior associate dean at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business whose research focuses on the intersection of leadership, gender and race.

That isn't surprising just two years after many of these companies made pledges to improve equity, Rosette adds.    

"The idea we could be at parity based on a few commitments and tactics and strategies implemented by organizations might be a bit unrealistic," she said. "But that doesn’t mean we haven't done a lot of work. It just means we have a lot of work to do.’’

The industry has made some progress in recent years as more Black employees were hired from outside of a given company into roles at the mid-to-upper level, says McKinsey's Rambachan. Black employees, for example, made up 7% of total external hires into senior manager or director positions in 2020, compared with 5% in 2019 and 4% in 2018, McKinsey says. 

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Is getting a business degree worth it?

For Haywood, his business dreams all started with "Shark Tank." 

He says that around sixth grade he began watching the show with his dad, a product development manager for Southern California Edison.  

"That was one of my first sparks,’’ says Haywood, who used to imagine himself as one of the "sharks'' – the moguls who listen to pitches from entrepreneurs before deciding if the ventures are worth their investment. He and his dad would discuss the risks and rewards of the proposed ventures. "I enjoyed hearing all the different ideas I'd never thought of.''

Haywood's interest in business kept growing. When he was a junior in high school, he was elected school treasurer, which meant working with an adult staff member on budgeting and handling expenses that ranged from buying classroom desks to paying the DJ who mixed music at a school dance.

By the time Haywood enrolled at UCLA in 2018, he knew he wanted to study business. But when he learned his desired major was only an option for graduate studies, he opted for an economics degree instead.

Kenny Haywood checks in at the Academic Advancement Program office on Feb. 1. Haywood, a senior at UCLA majoring in economics, spent much of his senior seeking a job in finance. In 2020, the CEO of Wells Fargo claimed that the bank's lack of diversity in senior roles was due to a "very limited pool of Black talent."

Among all bachelor's degree holders 25 through 54 who majored in business, 10% are Black, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce; 12.6% of MBA graduates were Black during the 2019-2020 academic year, the center says. 

But majoring specifically in business-related fields such as accounting, general business, or business economics is not a requirement for a financial services career, with "only 44% of prime-age workers'' in the sector having a business degree, according to the center.

Haywood says he might get his MBA down the line, though "a lot of times if you get that investment banking experience after college, it’s the equivalent of grad school," because "the experience you get, the deals you get to work on, give you the tools for any higher-end firm.''  

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He's still fine-tuning his long-term goals, but he thinks that ultimately, he'd like to be a financial consultant to college athletes headed to professional teams and huge salaries.

"There are a lot of college athletes, specifically from Black and brown communities, who aren’t used to having that much money," he says, pointing out that he has an opportunity to help them manage their funds and investments, "so their money doesn't disappear when their career's over."

In the meantime, he was casting a wide net as he tried to snag his first job, applying to "a couple consulting firms, a couple insurance firms.'' he says. "As much as I’m still on the investment banking track, I’m still applying to a couple different places where my degree will hold weight.'' 

How do you get your foot in the door?  

Lizzie Azran was an intern with the private credit and equity firm Avante Capital Partners when she met Haywood in 2021.

In 2020, the firm had launched the Small Business Investing Scholars Program, which connects women and minorities to financial companies that are partnered with the Small Business Administration and looking for interns. Haywood became one of the program's scholars the following year.

Azran began coaching him, helping polish his resume and prepare him for interviews. He ultimately landed a summer job at Deerpath Capital Management, a New York-based firm that invests in companies.

Haywood and Azran kept in touch, talking once or twice a month throughout the fall to go over the best strategies for connecting with potential employers.

"There are general hurdles around just getting the foot in the door if you don’t have contacts in the space,'' Azran says, "and so that's what we really focus on.''  

Azran suggested that Haywood identify companies with job openings that reflect his interests, then reach out to UCLA alumni who work there to get more information about the positions and hopefully create connections that could lead them to recommend Haywood for an interview.

She's confident about Haywood's future. 

“Kenny is brilliant,'' she says. "He has so much potential and just needs his foot in the door at the right place. I think he’s going to go really far.’’

Haywood believes the scholars' program where he met Azran was an important milestone.

"It gave me the opportunity to apply everything I learned in school to the real world,'' he says. "I already had the motivation. I already knew I'd finish my degree. But it gave me a sense of even greater purpose, looking around and seeing all these people who looked like me in this room.''

He thought about the change he and his fellow program participants could bring to a predominantly white industry. And he began to dream bigger.

"Imagine if we started our own company how powerful that could be,'' he says, of himself and his fellow students. "It really showed the greater mission of the work that I eventually end up doing.''