#GenerationTrader: Addressing prejudice in your career

Published on 12 December 2022

Prejudice and bias within the trading environment can impact traders directly as a result of gender, race, religion, sexuality and/or nationality. In some cases traders develop strategies to manage these effects, in others they simply try to carry on regardless.

Trader TV spoke with three senior traders about their personal experiences of bias and their approaches to handling it at the time, along with possible strategies to use when facing prejudice and advice around the support that traders can use to try and overcome the effects of bias.

We would like to thank Dwayne Middleton, global head of fixed income trading at T Rowe Price, Eunice Zhu, director, head of counterparty risk (XVA) trading at SMBC Nikko Capital Markets and Shekhar Karia, managing director equity derivatives at TP ICAP for helping us to analyse this issue.

Supported by MarketAxess.

Transcript of interview:

Dan Barnes: Welcome to Trader TV #Generationtrader, where we explore the impacts of diversity on trading and investments. I’m Dan Barnes.

Trading is a tough business to get into, but more so if you face prejudice. Joining me to discuss how bias against race, gender and socio economic background can manifest and potentially be overcome in the trading environment are Dwayne Middleton of T Rowe Price, Eunice Zhu of SMBC Nikko Capital Markets and Shekhar Karia of TP ICAP.

So let’s start with Shekhar, can I ask you what’s been your personal experience of prejudice in the work environment?

Shekhar Karia: Coming from the interdealer broking background, we experienced a very colorful range of characters on the trading floor. When I first started over 20 years ago, I experienced common casual racism, often use of the ‘p’ word and common other racial stereotyping that occurred with people of my color.

Dan Barnes: Dwayne, What’s been your personal experience of prejudice?

Dwayne Middleton: Certainly no overt racism like names or anything like that, but in terms of being called articulate when I presented in meetings, or you should watch your tone or, ‘Dwayne, you’re a big guy, you’re pretty intimidating coming up and talking to you on the trading desk.’ Those are all kind of like more microaggression type things that have happened to me over the course of my career.

Dan Barnes: Thank you. Eunice, what has been your experience?

Eunice Zhu: I feel like the prejudice towards me has been microaggression and casual joking about my background being Asian, Chinese woman and also being a non-native English speaker. I’ve been constantly struggling with fitting into the Western culture and then particularly in the trading environment where the profile still has been predominantly white and male.

I’ve always been a very resilient person, so sometimes I would actually debate back to the people who make comments about my height, my grandma to make sure they are aware that the microaggressions are not tolerated.

Dan Barnes: Shekhar, how have you overcome those biases?

Shekhar Karia: So the trading floor I found to be a very meritocratic place. It’s one where results are the main driver of acceptance. I think that feeds into a type of imposter syndrome where often you may feel like you don’t quite belong and therefore you always work harder to try and make sure that you are delivering in all the right ways. Now, when you say overcome, I’m not overly convinced that you truly do overcome it. You develop tools to deal with it because it’s the trading floor. It is fierce, it is intense, and you have to perform.

Dan Barnes: What sort of biases and disadvantages might someone face when they first start out on that career path?

Shekhar Karia: I think everyone faces the similarity bias. It’s much easier to accept someone who is looking like you, sounding like you and also has a similar family background or upbringing.

Dan Barnes: Thank you. Eunice?

Eunice Zhu: I think prejudice and bias are more on the resources, support, the performance review and also later on the promotion process. And I think middle management could be the bottleneck in the whole diversity promotion and having a more inclusive environment.

Dwayne Middleton: Early on in my career, I would do a lot of the legwork on the analysis of securities, for example, and not getting credit for that. You know, senior people not saying, ‘oh, you know, Dwayne helped out with this.’ The meritocracy, that was a big buzz word when I came into the industry and was really kind of not the case.

It didn’t matter how hard you worked, you had to find an advocate or you had to find somebody that was a sponsor. I beat my head up against the wall for years thinking I was working so hard. Nobody was saying it. Nobody was saying it because I didn’t have the right sponsor.

Dan Barnes: Very good. Thank you.

Shekhar, what sort of strategies have you seen that can potentially overcome biases?

Shekhar Karia: I think being more conscious of trying to seek out the data so we understand where there is bias, where people are being promoted or where people are missing out on promotions. Why are people leaving? I feel like all too often this stuff is kind of swept under the carpet. In trading and broking, there is a lot of movement and people often believe it’s just in the pursuit of money. But it is often for other reasons which are in the background. And I think we need to be looking into why that is and knowing the data behind it.

Dwayne Middleton: Historically, people got promoted or were given teams to manage because they had been at a firm a long time or fit that kind of, you know, people that look like you get that stretch assignment, for example.

Today, more training for managers in terms of how to lead teams, how to develop talent I think are key to unlocking the benefits of diversity going forward. There’s a number of academic and scientific studies that have proven diverse teams excel versus more homogenous teams.

Dan Barnes: That’s great. Thank you. Eunice, what sort of strategies do you see working?

Eunice Zhu: For the individual employee I’ve seen trainings on resilience and also having positive mindset. We really need to change the profile of the leadership so that for the next generations to come they will see another person like them, in the board, so they know that the external factor preventing them from progressing is gone.

And then what’s left is themselves how they can progress. Last but not least, is the allyship. So we’ve been fighting for ourselves. So we’ll be fighting for people who are similar to us. But we need allies from the other side to actually seeing our praise and then helping us to progress further so that we can help the next generation in the future.

Dan Barnes: That’s very good. Thank you. Dwayne, can I ask you, what’s your perspective on support for diversity today?

Dwayne Middleton: You’ve got to build the base. So that includes going to non-traditional schools. There’s a lot of talented, underrepresented minority kids that just need an introduction to really kind of what investment management or what the sell-side, what the buy-side is, giving them an opportunity to pursue this industry.

Dan Barnes: That’s great, thank you, Shekhar, how was your perspective on current initiatives and support for diversity?

Shekhar Karia: At the moment I still feel like we’re not doing enough. Management are talking about this and realize the commercial viability of it, but yet, I’m not seeing it coming through in the real numbers. As co-chair of the multicultural network, I’m also trying to develop initiatives, but we need to do more to attract the right people. How do we go to that broader base of the population to be able to encourage those from diverse minorities to apply? It’s the access to the industry, that’s the problem we’re finding.

Dan Barnes: Are there ways that a young person can get help in their career if they feel they’re experiencing prejudice of any of the sites we’ve discussed today?

Shekhar Karia: One of the biggest parts is the employee networks. I think they can be huge in helping younger people connect with senior people who are a little bit more like minded, who also may be outside their inner management circle or within their inner reporting lines.

And I think that allows them to have a voice, but yet also not to be scared of exactly what they’re saying or who they’re saying it to. If you are feeling that something’s bad, you should report it.

Dwayne Middleton: One thing we’ve done at my firm is there’s a black leadership council created where younger, underrepresented minorities could come in a safe place to discuss their career paths or discuss various situations that they might have with a particular manager. It removes the anxiety when you have somebody you can talk to that can at least identify with some of the issues that you’re going through in your career.

Eunice Zhu: I think one advice would be using career coach because they are a third party totally neutral and they can help you to reanalyze the situation in an independent way and then offer you the process to think about a solution to this prejudice or bias situation. Worst case, you will have to report to HR and even using the whistleblower service. If you really face prejudice and it’s not solvable, you can always exit the organization and find somewhere else that’s more inclusive.

Dan Barnes: Dwayne, what career advice would you give your younger self as you started on your journey in finance?

Dwayne Middleton: Volatility is a big part of our industry. It’s a great learning environment, but it’s also a great way to see who can make tough decisions, who can handle the risks. You know, don’t just judge yourself, analyze the people around you, understand the behavioral aspects of it, and it’ll help deal with the anxiety over the course of your career.

Eunice Zhu: First thing I would tell my younger self is be prepared. Regardless of how many diversity campaigns and initiatives has been done, the progress has been quite slow, admittedly. So be prepared for any challenge and be resilient.

Dan Barnes: Great point, thank you. Shekhar, what advice would you give your younger self?

Shekhar Karia: It’s so hard when you first join an organization, when you have so much pressure on trying to deliver. Having worked so hard to open that door in the first place. You try and do everything you can to fit in. You start to like things you didn’t really like. You start to go for drinks when you don’t really want to go for drinks. You start to do things which compromise your core self beliefs. You may enjoy some of those things and let yourself enjoy them, but also be authentic to who you are because that will hold you firm throughout your working life. Your different opinion will actually bring a diversity of thought to the conversation, and that is how innovation works.

Dan Barnes: Guys, that’s been great. Thank you so much.

Dwayne Middleton: Great. Dan, thanks for having me.

Eunice Zhu: Thank you for having me.

Shekhar Karia: Thanks, Dan.

Dan Barnes: I’d like to thank Dwayne, Eunice and Shekhar for their insights. And of course to you for watching. To catch up on our other shows or to subscribe to our newsletter, go to TRADERTV.NET.