Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson said Tuesday that Wall Street has “a long way to go” in establishing parity for minorities.
Jackson said access to capital is the final stage after the ending of legal slavery and segregation and the winning of the right to vote “in our struggle to make this a more perfect union”.
In an interview before a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York called “Diversity on Wall Street: the quest for equity and parity,” Jackson said: “Wall Street is the ultimate mountain to be climbed.”
Jackson cited the U.S. mutual fund industry as an example. He claimed that in an industry that manages about $7 trillion, “all the blacks and browns combined manage $5 billion.”
He said that some state pension funds represent populations that are up to 30 percent black and yet have no black fund managers.
“We have these barriers to overcome,” said Jackson. “The ultimate mountain to be climbed is access to capital, industry and technology.
“The difficulty today is that while excellence and effort matters, inheritance and access matters more. The schemes to recycle in an incestuous way these monies is a cycle that must be broken.”
On investment banking, Jackson said: “Look at the big deals and you’ll see we are basically locked out.”
Source of inspiration
A recent survey by the Securities Industry Association showed an improving picture for minorities in the U.S. finance industry.
The survey of 48 firms showed “people of color” now hold nearly a quarter of senior-level positions in the industry and over a third of mid-level jobs.
And Jackson agreed that high-profile role models like Merrill Lynch chief executive Stanley O’Neal could be a source of inspiration.
However, Jackson argued that no amount of role models can overcome what he called the “structural inequality” facing minorities aspiring to Wall Street.
“Trying to break down the Wall Street barriers is an ancient and ultimate struggle,” Jackson said.
“The good news is that there are qualified blacks and browns fully capable of engaging in exchange and trade on the street now, if they have access and opportunity.”
To that end, Jackson founded his Wall Street Project in 1997 to help increase opportunities for minorities on Wall Street. The project will hold its 9th annual conference in New York in January.
If minorities eventually make the breakthrough Jackson hopes for, he will see some sort of poetic justice.
“If you think about it, the struggle all began on Wall Street,” said Jackson. “Wall Street was built as a commodity exchange and the commodity was Africans.
“Most blacks lived in the Wall Street area. At some point they moved them north to what is now Harlem, but it all began in what is now Wall Street.”