A Virtual Townhall with the Goldman Sachs Firmwide Black Network

Published on09 JUNE 2020
Making Progress Towards Racial Equity

The article below is from our BRIEFINGS newsletter of 09 June 2020

Goldman Sachs’ Firmwide Black Network recently hosted a virtual townhall to share experiences with racial discrimination in the US and around the world. Lisa Opoku, global chief operating officer for the firm’s Engineering Division, moderated a discussion with Margaret Anadu, head of Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group, Leke Osinubi, chief risk officer for the Core Engineering business unit, Kene Ejikeme, head of Multi Asset Platform Sales in EMEA, and Sean Legister, a vice president in Multi Asset Sales in New York, on how to bring the Black community—and its allies—together.

Lisa Opoku: For many of us, there’s something special about this moment in time. I think as Black people—in general—we haven’t been entirely honest and open about our lives. Although we’re constantly confronted with racism and discrimination, it’s something we’ve learned to power through and, in fact, go to great lengths to conceal. What’s happened in the last few weeks is a turning point that has forced us to be more honest about the pain we’re feeling. For me, I took Ahmaud Arbery’s murder hard—not only because he looked like a grown-up version of my son—but also because it took two months before anyone was arrested. Then, in the same week, we had the Amy Cooper situation in New York and George Floyd’s murder—it was just the tipping point. For the Black community—with our history and all that we go through every day on a micro level —we finally got to a place where we couldn’t take it anymore.

Leke Osinubi: In many ways, what we’ve observed with George Floyd’s murder isn’t new; it’s just that we’ve only now had more opportunities to capture it. For me, his murder was the apex of all the frustration and exhaustion I’ve felt. The length of time—8 minutes—that the officer’s knee was on his neck was representative of the knee that’s been on the necks of Black men and women throughout history, and represents the system that continues to work against progress. It’s the constant reminder of our social position. The officer standing by silently was representative of others’ complicity in that murder and in the systemic oppression of Black people. My story is the same as their stories; we aren’t any different. As Black men we’re taught to be strong and not to cry because one day we’re going to have to serve as images of strength for our families, but in essence we can’t even protect ourselves. The irony that George Floyd died with someone kneeling on his neck, when African American’s have been kneeling in peaceful protest for the last four years, is telling of my existence—and that’s when I said enough was enough.

Sean Legister: For me, the Amy Cooper situation in Central Park was more terrifying. Because while George Floyd’s murder wasn’t expected, it also wasn’t surprising. But the moment I step outside of the offices of Goldman Sachs, I’m just another Black man in America. And in most situations, if I were in a situation where it would be my word against the “Amy Cooper’s” of the world, I think I’d lose that battle every time. The subtle racism also comes across when people say that they don’t see you as Black—that they don’t, in fact, see color. But if you don’t see color, then you’re not seeing a huge part of who I am. Or they may have a different perception of what it means to be Black and perhaps I don’t fit that stereotype.

Kene Ejikeme: In London, the UK and parts of EMEA, the Black experience is more of a summation of micro-aggressions. Do you want to get shot and killed, or die by a thousand cuts? For me, the Amy Cooper incident was the one that hit me personally the hardest and made me reflect about what that means for my place in society. On a day-to-day basis, there are so many little things that are happening in real time that are just too many to address. Whether I’m trying—without success—to hail a taxi or getting on the tube and seeing mothers pull their children or daughters away from me. By the time I’ve gotten to the office I’ve already sustained multiple “cuts.” With everything happening in the world, I’m just reliving those moments all over again. The problems in the UK are just as ugly, pernicious and debilitating as they are in the US—they just take a different form.
Margaret Anadu: During my analyst days at the firm, a colleague yelled at me while I was getting my breakfast—likely assuming I worked in the cafeteria because I’m Black. When I got back to my desk, visibly upset, my manager at the time asked what was wrong and when I told her, without missing a beat, she immediately wanted to find the woman and address the situation. Today, a lot of people are asking: “What can I do and what do I say?” The answer is to just be with us. The ability to confront these racial issues and create allies depends on building relationships with people long before a crisis. My manager and I had a relationship that was real and genuine before the incident. It’s a lot easier to talk about something that’s difficult when you’ve spent real time talking about things that aren’t difficult.

Lisa Opoku: Can you talk about your experiences in terms of how you’re dealing with parenting in these times, or conversations that your parents may have had to help you understand racial inequality?

Leke Osinubi: For my daughter, we’ve had some extremely tough conversations where I want her to fully embrace who she is. I try to empower her to understand her own internal strength, but at the same time, realize that she’s not going to be living in a fairy tale. There was a point in time when I was trying to protect and shield her from racism, but realized that was a disservice.

Sean Legister: For me, my mom is my everything. She’s a single mom from Jamaica who raised me to work hard, but not be too loud so I can fit in. When I went away to Amherst College, I told my mom I wanted to major in Black Studies. Her response was that if I wanted to learn about Black people I should go to the library and read a book. She had wanted to see me major in math or economics. But a couple of months later when Barack Obama won the presidency, she called me crying and told me I should major in Black Studies and chase my dream. Within the firm, we’re trying to use our voices to educate others and work to bring about more changes. We can do better. I’m hopeful that since I can bring my authentic self to work that will open the door for others.

Lisa Opoku: Margaret, what are you hearing in your conversations with the analysts and associates across the firm at this time?

Margaret Anadu: It’s a mix of experiences. Many feel optimistic about the future, while others are anxious and deeply distressed. You’re not only dealing with the actual reality of what’s going on outside your doors and feeling alone and exposed, but for some this is exacerbated by the silence they feel from others. We’ve all heard that to be silent is to be complicit. So even an awkwardly worded email or note to someone who is in pain is better than nothing. We’re certainly having more conversations so that’s real progress. But we have to continue to be honest and vulnerable.

Lisa Opoku: Kene, you’ve been a leader in the Black community in London for a long time. What kinds of changes do you think need to happen to effect real change?

Kene Ejikeme: I would encourage the conversation to pivot from, “Don’t discriminate because it’s not a good thing to do and you’re a good person,” to a conversation that having a more diverse firm contributes to the bottom line and enables us to drive a better return for our shareholders. I would like to see greater transparency around that and include more people in those conversations. We’re an analytical, data-driven firm and when we put numerical targets on things we magically seem to hit them. We also need to create a web of accountability where managers who do a good job managing diverse teams get paid more and are promoted.


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