Soapbox

November 21, 2013 10:48 am

Banks should make their MBA recruiting teams more diverse

Employers will be more likely to retain women if they connect them to senior female role models

The annual MBA recruiting season is in full swing. Weekly recruiting events are happening across Wall Street and the City. In a few weeks, the most promising students scouted by banks will be invited to the first round of interviews in January for the coveted 10-week summer internships in 2014. At the end of the summer, many will be offered a full-time associate position.

Banks’ recruiting departments value the MBA education for the diverse work experience the students bring, their intellectual maturity and their record of stamina and perseverance. Women represent about half the student population in most traditional, full-time MBA programmes. However, they only represent a small minority of the students interested in investment banking careers. Everyone is talking about increasing gender diversity in senior management, but we should also be paying more attention to what is happening on campus. If banks want to attract the few female MBA graduates who are interested in banking, they need to make their own MBA recruiting teams more diverse.

I speak from experience. When I completed my undergraduate education in 2003, I worked for a few years in the fields of law and consulting. I regularly heard friends who had joined entry-level analyst programmes at banks talk about what a great experience it was. Gradually, I began to regret that I had not applied to a bank straight out of college. I was interested in going into banking and wanted to give it a shot. I knew that the only chance for a career switcher like me to get my foot in the door would be with an MBA. I ultimately reached my goal, participating in Credit Suisse’s summer internship programme during the summer of 2008 and joining full-time in 2009 after finishing my MBA.

During the fall of 2007, I attended the numerous events offered by banks. What struck me most was the lack of women represented in the process. There were a couple of banks that had no females involved throughout the entire recruiting process. I was presented with a man’s world through and through. While I knew that fewer women than men worked in financial services, first impressions mattered. I felt banks were missing an opportunity to make an impact on women and show they supported having more women in banking. For the few banks that did send diverse recruiting teams, including my current employer Credit Suisse, it was refreshing and reassuring to have conversations with the women there and try to put myself in their shoes.

My belief in diverse campus recruiting teams has only grown since I joined Credit Suisse. While the number of women in senior roles does decrease the higher up you go in the organisation, there are still many successful women who have made it to the top. As I have witnessed, women can have a long and successful career in banking. It’s important to bring high-powered women in contact with female MBA students at an early stage.

Today, as the diversity recruiting lead for Credit Suisse’s MBA recruiting team at Columbia Business School, I try to identify the most promising female students and connect them early on to female role models in the bank so that they can envision the future for themselves and get answers to questions they may be struggling with in a few years – including; ‘How can I combine the long hours with a family’? That said, ‘work-life balance’ is not only a ‘women’s issue’. Our recruiting teams notice in conversation that this is also a concern of men.

The 2014 summer internship will be a challenging, intense but rewarding experience for those selected. As someone actively involved in the process, it’s extremely important that banks offer as realistic an experience as possible so that our recruits can make an educated decision about their future careers in investment banking. Even before first-year female students begin their MBA, Credit Suisse offers a day-long programme which enables them to learn more about a career in financial services and assess the opportunities. In an effort to continue providing our diverse population with appropriate tools, full-time female associates and VPs take part in our Banking on Women programme, in which junior female bankers meet their senior counterparts on a regular basis to receive training and guidance.

An MBA is a significant financial and personal commitment and for me it was the stepping stone to my desired career. As I’ve seen in my own circle of friends and acquaintances, women continue to opt out of the work force, even within a few short years of completing their MBA due to personal choices. We’ll have a better chance of retaining women if we connect them to senior female role models from the outset, starting at campus.

Jessie Ting works in the M&A team of Credit Suisse Investment Banking Division in New York and has an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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