Voices From the Workplace

Our nation is experiencing a seismic shift in the pursuit of racial equity. As the insidious nature of racism in the workplace is being exposed, leaders are taking action to change course. While nearly 63% of MLT alumni surveyed report that their companies have taken steps to address racism in the workplace, the overarching response is there is much work to be done. Professionals of color are sharing their perspectives about the harmful ways that racism has affected them and their careers. We hope a better understanding of our alumni experiences will lead to more inclusive and equitable workplaces.

Here are some staggering statistics along with stories from talented professionals sharing their experiences with racism in their careers:

95%
said they experienced racism in their current industry. Yet, only 64% of white people report ever witnessing racism, with 36% saying they have never witnessed racism in the workplace.
78%
felt they faced greater scrutiny or requirements in comparison to white colleagues. Only 29% of white workers feel their Black colleagues face greater scrutiny.
66%
said they felt they faced difficulty finding mentors or sponsors. Just 25% of white workers feel their Black colleagues face difficulty finding mentors or sponsors.
 

We surveyed MLT alumni at hundreds of companies to capture their real-life experiences with racism in the workplace. Some stories below describe blatant aggressions, while others illustrate the more insidious aspects of racism. Every story represents the urgency with which employers must move the needle on diversity and inclusion within their organizations.

My experience is like many of ours, not created by explicit racism in the workplace but by a complicit culture of willful ignorance, unchecked implicit biases, and a desire to be comfortable over actionable.

My experience is like many of ours, not created by explicit racism in the workplace but by a complicit culture of willful ignorance, unchecked implicit biases, and a desire to be comfortable over actionable.

My experience is like many of ours, not created by explicit racism in the workplace but by a complicit culture of willful ignorance, unchecked implicit biases, and a desire to be comfortable over actionable.

As a Black woman, I cannot decouple the impact both race AND gender have had on my corporate experience.

As a Black woman, I cannot decouple the impact both race AND gender have had on my corporate experience.

Promotions higher than the Manager level almost solely went to white men, despite the fact the work was led by women managers who had proven at every turn to be more knowledgeable and driven. I point this out because as a black woman, I cannot decouple the impact both race AND gender have had on my corporate experience.

During lunch in my first week, one of the managers came to say hello to the table and completely ignored me —the only black person at the table.

During lunch in my first week, one of the managers came to say hello to the table and completely ignored me —the only black person at the table.

During lunch in my first week, one of the managers came to say hello to the table and completely ignored me—the only black person at the table. She even introduced herself to one of the people she did not recognize, but did not do the same to me. When I tried to introduce myself I was completely ignored for someone else's comment. Then she just left; I felt like a ghost.

 

There are a lot of certifications and degrees we are pushed to achieve, however the reality is that those achievements don't erase the bias.

There are a lot of certifications and degrees we are pushed to achieve, however the reality is that those achievements don't erase the bias.

There are a lot of certifications and degrees we are pushed to achieve, however the reality is that those achievements don't erase the bias. Without them I was told I was underqualified. With them I was told I was overqualified. Either way, they did not have to make the hire.

95%
said they have experienced racism in a past workplace.

 

I think we all like to think that things are a meritocracy. But no matter how much you achieve educationally or professionally, you will always have to show more than others to get a similar level of respect as your coworkers.

I think we all like to think that things are a meritocracy. But no matter how much you achieve educationally or professionally, you will always have to show more than others to get a similar level of respect as your coworkers.

I think we all like to think that things are a meritocracy. But no matter how much you achieve educationally or professionally, you will always have to show more than others to get a similar level of respect as your coworkers.

White managers need to be conscious of the environments they’re fostering so black employees feel like they have a fair shake. Too often, we need to meaningfully outperform white colleagues to earn equal recognition.

White managers need to be conscious of the environments they’re fostering so black employees feel like they have a fair shake. Too often, we need to meaningfully outperform white colleagues to earn equal recognition.

Investment banking is a pretty bespoke apprenticeship business. This means a lot of opportunities at winning deals are predicated on personal networks which tend to be fairly homogenous. White managers need to be conscious of the environments they’re fostering so black employees feel like they have a fair shake. Too often, we need to meaningfully outperform white colleagues to earn equal recognition.

I am an olympian with both undergraduate and graduate level Ivy League degrees and my drive and competency is questioned more than my white girlfriends who have half as much investment experience.

I am an olympian with both undergraduate and graduate level Ivy League degrees and my drive and competency is questioned more than my white girlfriends who have half as much investment experience.

I am an olympian with both undergraduate and graduate level Ivy League degrees and my drive and competency is questioned more than my white girlfriends who have half as much investment experience, no Ivy League degrees and no MBA. I considered getting the CFA as another badge of accreditation in the asset management field, but I had to face the fact that my other black girlfriends with multiple Ivy League degrees plus CFA and CAIA certifications still struggled to get hired at the higher paying Endowments and Foundations investment offices. Our place is relegated to the lowest paying segment of asset allocators, Public Pension plans. The compensation difference is more than $150,000 per year at even the Associate Director level and the pay discrepancy only widens at more senior levels.

I thought having a fancy investment bank on my resume would dispel the myth that I wasn’t as good as anyone else. I’ve come to learn that no matter where I go, I’ll always have to start from scratch.

I thought having a fancy investment bank on my resume would dispel the myth that I wasn’t as good as anyone else. I’ve come to learn that no matter where I go, I’ll always have to start from scratch.

I thought having a fancy investment bank on my resume would dispel the myth that I wasn’t as good as anyone else. I’ve come to learn that no matter where I go, I’ll always have to start from scratch.

78%
felt they faced greater scrutiny or requirements in comparison to white colleagues.

 

 

I often struggle to socially connect with the culture, which is typically oriented towards white males. Even now, I have an MBA from a top school, but still feel like I have to figure out my next path on my own.

I often struggle to socially connect with the culture, which is typically oriented towards white males. Even now, I have an MBA from a top school, but still feel like I have to figure out my next path on my own.

My experience has been less about racial discrimination and more about “fit”—or lack there of. In industries like PE, VC, banking, or consulting, networking and social affiliations can make or break you. I often struggle to socially connect with the culture, which is typically oriented towards white males. Even now, I have an MBA from a top school, but still feel like I have to figure out my next path on my own. A lot of the friends from b-school pursued careers in the social sector, not PE or entrepreneurship, so I have to navigate those paths more independently.

Even if I made a connection with someone, a white counterpart always seemed to make a stronger more natural connection that outshined mine.

Even if I made a connection with someone, a white counterpart always seemed to make a stronger more natural connection that outshined mine.

Even if I made a connection with someone, a white counterpart always seemed to make a stronger more natural connection that outshined mine. It was like I was always two steps behind, even though I was just as or even more capable than them. Eventually I just got tired of trying to catch up.

 

66%
said they felt they faced difficulty finding mentors or sponsors

I have an MBA, but I feel my white co-workers get more credit for having shared experiences (e.g. backgrounds, hobbies, etc.) with various members of the leadership team.

I have an MBA, but I feel my white co-workers get more credit for having shared experiences (e.g. backgrounds, hobbies, etc.) with various members of the leadership team.

I have an MBA, but I feel my white co-workers get more credit for having shared experiences (e.g. backgrounds, hobbies, etc.) with various members of the leadership team.

 

 

I currently am the only Black person in my entire company and it is the most exhausting experience of my life. I have no real mentors or support systems...

I currently am the only Black person in my entire company and it is the most exhausting experience of my life. I have no real mentors or support systems...

I currently am the only Black person in my entire company and it is the most exhausting experience of my life. I have no real mentors or support systems, and have had to fight for every single promotion and am only rewarded when I fit a woman of color stereotype that management can benefit from.

My colleagues or leaders didn't value my accolades as much as those of my white peers. I was the only one who ever received feedback that claimed that I needed to "step back and let others shine."

My colleagues or leaders didn't value my accolades as much as those of my white peers. I was the only one who ever received feedback that claimed that I needed to "step back and let others shine."

I had multiple accolades from my client, which were fantastic and really encouraging. My colleagues or leaders didn't value my accolades as much as those of my white peers. I was the only one who ever received feedback that claimed that I needed to "step back and let others shine." I was the only person with an underrepresented background on my team of over 35 people.

 

89%
had been the only person of color on their team.

I’m the only Latina in my immediate team and the entire organization. It’s disheartening and exhausting to always be the only one.

I’m the only Latina in my immediate team and the entire organization. It’s disheartening and exhausting to always be the only one.

During my first job, my boss made a comment about me looking like “Jenny from the block.” It wasn’t the first time a comment like this was made but it was the last one because I ended up moving to another company. Where I work today, I’m the only Latina in my immediate team and the entire organization. It’s disheartening and exhausting to always be the only one.

 

 

I have found corporate America is a reflection of America's culture. My educational achievements will not make others treat me better.

I have found corporate America is a reflection of America's culture. My educational achievements will not make others treat me better.

I absolutely believed that earning my MBA from a top business school would completely change how people in corporate America would treat me. I couldn't be more incorrect. I have found corporate America is a reflection of America's culture. My educational achievements will not make others treat me better.

 

 

It is disappointing and disheartening to see how the racism and biases persistent in line managers continue to cause organizations to pass over highly capable and credible Black talent...

It is disappointing and disheartening to see how the racism and biases persistent in line managers continue to cause organizations to pass over highly capable and credible Black talent...

In my role as a mid-level manager privy to hiring and promotion discussions, it is disappointing and disheartening to see how the racism and biases persistent in line managers continue to cause organizations to pass over highly capable and credible Black talent during recruiting, during allocation of special projects, or during promotion discussions due to the ever pervasive concern of "cultural fit" or critique of "personality". And that there does not seem to be an effective way for more senior leadership to correct this, even if / when their stated ambitions might be to have diverse and inclusive workplaces.

95%
said they experienced racism in their current industry.

Our senior leaders began conducting the ‘what can we do’ conversations, however demonstrated little to no interest to take an honest look at the positions and experiences of their African American employees internally.

Our senior leaders began conducting the ‘what can we do’ conversations, however demonstrated little to no interest to take an honest look at the positions and experiences of their African American employees internally.

Coming out of the George Floyd murder, our senior leaders began conducting the ‘what can we do’ conversations, however demonstrated little to no interest to take an honest look at the positions and experiences of their African American employees internally. I’ve found it extremely difficult to engage further with leadership on race and social issues when it has become readily apparent that they have no interest in addressing what is directly in front of them.
 

 

 

38%
said they felt they were denied access to professional development or special assignments based on their race.

The few other African Americans who also had the sterling resumes and glowing reviews that bested many of our white colleagues, also struggled to find their way to elevated positions in the firm.

The few other African Americans who also had the sterling resumes and glowing reviews that bested many of our white colleagues, also struggled to find their way to elevated positions in the firm.

Stretch assignments, inclusion in committees and promotions were increasingly more difficult to land though I was consistently viewed as a ‘valued member’ of the team and the ‘go-to’ for tough assignments. As I looked around, I noticed that the few other African Americans who also had the sterling resumes and glowing reviews that bested many of our white colleagues, also struggled to find their way to elevated positions in the firm.

asked if there were opportunities in bigger cities, and she responded with “who is going to translate for your mom?”

asked if there were opportunities in bigger cities, and she responded with “who is going to translate for your mom?”

My manager told other analysts about opportunities in bigger cities and the other analysts and I discussed this. When it was my one-on-one meeting, my manager started to describe some opportunities, but always in the same city where I currently live. After she finished, I asked if there were opportunities in bigger cities, and she responded with “who is going to translate for your mom?”

I always thought that reaching this level of success in my career was going to put me at a different level in people's minds, only to find out I am still being perceived as the same “ignorant Mexican.”

I always thought that reaching this level of success in my career was going to put me at a different level in people's minds, only to find out I am still being perceived as the same “ignorant Mexican.”

Becoming an Investment Banker; considering that I started as a Roughneck on an oil rig, I always thought that reaching this level of success in my career was going to put me at a different level in people's minds, only to find out I am still being perceived as the same “ignorant Mexican.”
 

This new manager did not understand my background or who I was. I was belittled for asking for support. There was no attempt to bridge our differences and addressing these issues with HR or leadership aggravated the situation.

This new manager did not understand my background or who I was. I was belittled for asking for support. There was no attempt to bridge our differences and addressing these issues with HR or leadership aggravated the situation.

This new manager did not understand my background or who I was. I was belittled for asking for support. There was no attempt to bridge our differences and addressing these issues with HR or leadership aggravated the situation.

31%
said racial discrimination, whether a specific incident or an environment, prompted them to leave the organization.

 

In the end, this lack of support meant I left the firm. Only one of my friends has remained at the firm because he found sponsorship early on. It's a shame that happened. I felt I could have had a career there.

In the end, this lack of support meant I left the firm. Only one of my friends has remained at the firm because he found sponsorship early on. It's a shame that happened. I felt I could have had a career there.

In the end, this lack of support meant I left the firm. Only one of my friends has remained at the firm because he found sponsorship early on. It's a shame that happened. I felt I could have had a career there.

Even though I passed the exams and was a top performer, with good reviews and rank, I was still not considered for better opportunities at the firm.

Even though I passed the exams and was a top performer, with good reviews and rank, I was still not considered for better opportunities at the firm.

I was working in the investment management industry and professionals within the firm who had the CFA designation or only one level left (CFA lvl 3) were given better assignments and were recognized for their expertise. I cleared level 1 and level 2 in a year (quite rare) to demonstrate my interest in the industry and get on the best accounts at the firm. Even though I passed the exams and was a top performer, with good reviews and rank, I was still not considered for better opportunities at the firm. I left the firm.

 

 

I noticed white interns hired after me being offered full-time positions. After the third intern hired after me 'magically' advanced (it really did seem like magic at the time), I called it quits.

I noticed white interns hired after me being offered full-time positions. After the third intern hired after me 'magically' advanced (it really did seem like magic at the time), I called it quits.

My plan was to stick around for years and eventually 'earn' my place, until I noticed white interns hired after me being offered full-time positions. After the third intern hired after me 'magically' advanced (it really did seem like magic at the time), I called it quits. I left the company and the music industry as a whole.

 

 

I've been consistently passed up for promotions, given poor performance reviews, and been treated like a threat by my superiors instead of an asset to the team.

I've been consistently passed up for promotions, given poor performance reviews, and been treated like a threat by my superiors instead of an asset to the team.

I have three Ivy League degrees and have outperformed my peers in every work environment from investment banking to Fortune 500 companies over the past decade. Yet, I've been consistently passed up for promotions, given poor performance reviews, and been treated like a threat by my superiors instead of an asset to the team. Three years ago, I decided to give up the pandering to white colleagues and unsuccessful attempts to climb the corporate ladder in favor of starting my own business. I will never look back.

35%
said racial discrimination, whether a specific incident or an environment, prompted you to change your career pathway (i.e. leave industry, switch functions, depart a location).

On team projects, she would defer to my Caucasian team members, she would reassign my and my Hispanic colleague’s tasks to them, she would routinely ignore my inputs and those of my Hispanic peers. She would roll her eyes...

On team projects, she would defer to my Caucasian team members, she would reassign my and my Hispanic colleague’s tasks to them, she would routinely ignore my inputs and those of my Hispanic peers. She would roll her eyes...

When performing the same tasks as my Caucasian peers, the manager subjected me and my Hispanic team member to additional questioning. She doubted, undermined, and micromanaged our work. On team projects, she would defer to my Caucasian team members, she would reassign my and my Hispanic colleague’s tasks to them, she would routinely ignore my inputs and those of my Hispanic peers. She would roll her eyes or cut us off in the middle of sentences. When I met with her to share how I felt and provided several specific examples, she got defensive, claimed to not remember the instances of bias and mistreatment, and said that I was being “sensitive to being treated differently”.
 

Black employees from junior to mid level over-index in education—some with two masters degrees—yet are kept in roles under executives without comparable experience and education.

Black employees from junior to mid level over-index in education—some with two masters degrees—yet are kept in roles under executives without comparable experience and education.

The systemic racism in my company is so blatant. There is a concerted effort to keep Black employees, in particular, away from executive ranks. The Black employees from junior to mid level over-index in education—some with two masters degrees—yet are kept in roles under executives without comparable experience and education.

 

 

After nearly two years at the company, my manager stated that someone more experienced was needed to fill the role. The role was then filled with a freshly graduated college senior, who was a white man.

After nearly two years at the company, my manager stated that someone more experienced was needed to fill the role. The role was then filled with a freshly graduated college senior, who was a white man.

A role opened and I expressed interest in increasing my scope of work. After nearly two years at the company, my manager stated that someone more experienced was needed to fill the role. The role was then filled with a freshly graduated college senior, who was a white man.

34%
said they felt they were denied a promotion or a raise based on their race.

I finished working on another acquisition and launch only to learn that another colleague was promoted who had not completed the level of work that I had.

I finished working on another acquisition and launch only to learn that another colleague was promoted who had not completed the level of work that I had.

I finished working on another acquisition and launch only to learn that another colleague was promoted who had not completed the level of work that I had.
 

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Only when we truly understand how racism shows up at work, can we make meaningful progress toward more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces.

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