Black interns: 'You just need to give us a chance'

By Tom Espiner
Business reporter, BBC News

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Gold OyeladeImage source, Gold Oyelade
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Gold Oyelade says black interns just need to be given a chance to prove themselves

Gold Oyelade, 22, just graduated from Warwick University, and has already landed a role in investment banking.

Gold got an internship at City firm Evercore through a programme called 10,000 Black Interns.

The programme, which aims to help create future black business leaders, has just announced 2,000 places at top companies are up for grabs.

Black people, who are under-represented in senior business roles, "just need a chance", Gold says.

While Gold says Evercore "care a lot about their people", prior to being part of 10,000 Black Interns, she found there were obstacles preventing her getting into firms.

Gold was born and raised in Brixton, and despite having gone to a Russell Group university, she and her black friends found it difficult to get internships they saw white peers getting with more ease.

"I've had to prove myself," she says. "Where it seems we are just as qualified on paper, for one reason or another, that hasn't been in our favour in getting internships."

This was in part down to their lacking a network - they didn't know the right people, she says.

"'Your network is your net worth' is alive and well, and can be a disadvantage to people who haven't had opportunities, or who don't know someone in a leadership position in the firm," she says.

A lack of black leaders in companies can knock people's confidence in trying to get in, she says.

"We don't see people like us in these firms to feel like we're welcome or we are good enough to be in these roles," she says.

Some businesses also need to take a look at their attitudes to black interns, especially from a working class background, she says.

"There is maybe an assumption that young black people aren't as smart or aren't as prepared for these roles," she says. "The assumption that we are not good enough just needs to be eradicated."

"It's not the norm for black people to be in high-achieving places, but we have the capacity to be in these places," she says. "Black people are capable - you just literally need to give them a chance."

Gold said that the 10,000 Black Interns initiative "will make a difference" in how black people perceive their chances in business, and in how they are perceived.

"It's now for us to stick with these roles, to grow, so we are creating the opportunity and the avenue for people to follow," she says. "There is a duty for us to persist, to work hard, and to know that yes, this is possible."

Image source, Izunna Ogedi-Uzokwe
Image caption,
Esther Odejimi-Uzokwe says: 'You can walk through a trading floor and not see a black face'

The 10,000 Black Interns programme aims to place 2,000 interns per year with companies over five years.

The initiative grew out of 100 Black Interns, and expanded due to interest from businesses who wanted to be involved, according to programme director Esther Odejimi-Uzokwe.

Organisations ranging from City firms such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC through to tech giants Amazon, Facebook and Google and sporting giants such as Manchester United are on board.

Ms Odejimi-Uzokwe says the programme is needed to help create future black leaders in the City of London and beyond.

She said the murder of George Floyd, and the impetus that gave to the Black Lives Matter movement, meant that in many companies "a light bulb flicked" and diversity moved up the corporate agenda.

Ms Odejimi-Uzokwe was born and raised in East London with a Nigerian heritage. "We didn't have money" growing up, she said.

Nevertheless, she secured a place at Oxford University to follow a passion for studying theology and religion, and from there went into the City working at Goldman Sachs.

There she saw first-hand that black people are under-represented in finance, and decided to try to help change that situation.

"In the world we live in, the way the system is set up, you can walk through a trading floor and not see a black face," she says.

Image source, Legal and General
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Justin Onuekwusi says he has to deal with 'being mistaken for a security guard' despite being a senior fund manager

But some black people do manage to reach senior positions in the world of finance.

Justin Onuekwusi, head of retail multi-asset funds at Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), also works to try to improve diversity and inclusion in UK businesses.

He was born in inner-city Manchester and raised as part of a single-parent family. "Growing up, times were tough," he says.

But his mum was a teacher, so there was "always a focus on education". "I was good at maths, good at school, and did economics at the University of Warwick," he says.

On his success in scaling the corporate ladder, Mr Onuekwusi says: "I point to luck as well as hard work".

He "always had really strong sponsorship" in his career, which included stints at Bank of America and Aviva, as well as at LGIM.

But despite this, he says he's "had barriers" in the City, including feeling like an outsider.

"I had pull myself out of my comfort zone to build relationships," he says.

In addition, there are day-to-day challenges in the City.

"There are lots of micro-aggressions you have to deal with," he says. "I still get mistaken for being a security guard."

Once he went to a company where he was doing a presentation to other fund managers, and poured a coffee for himself and a lady.

When he turned around there was a queue behind him, waiting to be served, "thinking I'm the coffee waiter."

These types of incidents build up. For him, being a senior fund manager, it's "easier to brush off".

"When the people are more junior it's a lot harder," he says.

Lots of black women in business don't feel comfortable about their hair, he says, and get comments about it: "Is that real?"

"It's draining," he says, adding that in mentoring groups people have broken down when discussing micro-aggressions.

While there is "more to be done" by business and society to tackle lack of diversity - Mr Onuekwusi says fair representation may not happen in his lifetime - the platform given to black hopefuls in business by 10,000 Black Interns is "massive", he says.