Career & Culture: BAME in financial services Interview with Richard Thompson
Richard Thompson is Head of Investment Risk at Merian Global Investors, with over 18 years of financial services experience gained at a number of different institutions in New York, London and Kingston. Born and raised in Jamaica, Richard is a Rhodes Scholar and first moved to the UK after graduating from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad to complete his PhD at Oxford University. This has provided him with a unique perspective.
Drawing on his own experience Richard highlighted three key themes. The first of which was the concept of ‘boxing’ people into categories. Central to this was understanding the importance of how other people’s perception of these ‘boxes’ can define their view of you. Prior to moving to the UK he described how his identity, as a Black man in Jamaica, was simply ‘Richard’. Arriving at Oxford it became clear that certain ’boxes’ were applied to him, the meaning and nuances of which all had to be learnt. He described that he “hadn’t realised” he was Black until then, as it had never been a point of difference. Richard then went on to share some personal anecdotes to illustrate how this ‘difference’ had manifested over his career.
Richard’s second theme, was the importance of genuine diversity. The difficulty with ‘boxes’, he suggested, was that too often they can become all encompassing and can obfuscate the more important discussion of diversity of thought or ‘cognitive’ diversity. Richard pointed out that as well as Black, he is a Quant, a Jamaican, and an academic. But focusing on just one ‘box’, runs the risk of being reductive. An example of this would be attempting to address organisational diversity by simply focusing on one diversity characteristic, such as ethnicity or gender, but applying exactly the same academic or professional requirements to the hire. The result might be diversity from ticking a particular ’box’, but without authentic variety.
The last theme focused on what individuals and financial services organisations can do to address some of the challenges Richard had raised. When asked to use three words to describe his own personal experience through the years, these were “alienated”, “self-conscious” (which can lead to self-imposed silence) and “suspicious” (of people’s motives, whether good or bad); which Richard highlighted was unlikely to be unique amongst BAME professionals in the UK financial services sector. However, recognising the drivers is essential in the process for organisations to overcome them.