Ex-BlackRock employees allege discrimination in letter to Larry Fink

Two former BlackRock employees have written to the boss of the world’s largest asset manager saying that they faced racial and sexual discrimination while working at the $8.7tn firm.

The open letter was written by Mugi N. Nguyai and Essma Bengabsia, who were based in BlackRock’s New York office, and calls on Larry Fink to “take definitive action”.

“BlackRock as an institution prides itself on diversity of thought, and inclusion of all races, cultures, and creeds,” says the letter, sent to Fink personally and also published on Medium on 18 February.

“However, the reality that we each experienced was an institution built on racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and sexual discrimination that caused a Kenyan man and an American Arab Muslim woman to leave BlackRock during our analyst years, in 2019 and 2020 respectively.”

The letter comes at a time when firms around the world are facing increased scrutiny following the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, which were sparked by the May death of George Floyd and the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Fink was among high-profile business leaders who spoke out to denounce racism following the fatal arrest of Floyd and later pledged to bolster the number of Black employees at the firm.

In their letter, in addition to their own experiences, Nguyai and Bengabsia said they also drew on testimonies from other current and former employees, some of whom also work in the London and San Francisco offices.

In Fink’s annual letter, published on 26 January, the chief executive said BlackRock expected companies to have a “talent strategy that allows them to draw on the fullest set of talent possible”, and include disclosures about workforce alongside those focused on sustainability.

READBlackRock’s Larry Fink turns up the heat on company bosses over climate change and diversity

The letter also lists eight recommendations that would put the asset manager on “the road to doing better”. These include publicly disclosing workforce diversity and average pay data broken down by gender and race.

Bengabsia and Nguyai said the additional data could be an “expansion” of BlackRock’s UK gender pay gap report. The former analysts also suggested the firm publicly disclose hiring, promotion and attrition rates broken down by pay and race, as well as hire an independent firm to investigate the culture at BlackRock.

According to their respective LinkedIn profiles, Bengabsia worked as an analyst in the credit group product strategy team from July 2018 to May 2019 and Nguyai as a financial markets advisory analyst from July 2019 to November 2020.

READEngaging on race? You’ve got to do more than add a hashtag

The 18 February letter followed Bengabsia’s launch of a petition, “End Racism & Discrimination at BlackRock”, which has been signed by more than 8,500 people. She had also written a post on 1 February, “#MeToo at BlackRock”.

BlackRock declined to comment to Financial News, instead referring to a memo the firm sent to employees. The entirety of the memo to staff is copied below:

To: All Employees and Contingent Workers

Working to Enhance Our Culture of Belonging and Inclusivity

Dear colleagues,

As I wrote to you earlier this month, there have been recent reports in social media and the press from former employees about their experiences at BlackRock, including one today. There is a critical dialogue about race, equity and belonging taking place – in the media, in politics and inside many institutions. BlackRock is part of this important, and sometimes difficult, conversation. Embracing it is the only way to drive real change, and we are committed to taking action.

While we disagree with the portrayal of our firm in today’s blog post, we must acknowledge that there are former and current employees who have not experienced the culture that we aspire to at BlackRock. Moments like these underscore the urgency of our broader ambitions on diversity, equity and inclusion. We know we have much work to do in building a culture of belonging.

BlackRock has prioritized this effort in the past year. We outlined our plan last June for how the firm could enhance racial equity and inclusion, and improve the work experience and representation of diverse talent. The plan has clear and transparent goals, and we have been providing regular updates (September, December) on that plan.

As part of that effort, many of you also have participated in the active dialogue we’ve had on issues of race and privilege with each other and outside thought leaders and academics. This work is critical and ongoing for the entire firm. While we strive for a culture of respect and belonging, some of our people have experienced the firm in a way that is not inclusive. Whether the behaviors that cause this are intended or not, they are not acceptable and impact our colleagues and culture. We need to ensure that all of us understand our expectations for behavior and conduct so that everyone experiences an inclusive and respectful environment—until that happens, our work is not done.

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing additional steps to enhance and better communicate the process by which we investigate employee concerns or complaints. Importantly, we also will increase the awareness of channels through which experiences at work can be shared, including when our people face micro-aggressions that can lead to an experience different from the one we strive to create. And, we will expand our manager and employee training on behavior, conduct and respect.

In early March, we also will be sharing our broader DEI strategy with all of you – a strategy that has been informed by your feedback through listening sessions, employee surveys, and leading outside experts on DEI.

Underpinning all of this work is trust – trust in each other and trust in our processes. And, the firm needs to earn and maintain the trust of our people every day. BlackRock’s culture is central to our success and to who we are as a firm. We must get this right.

Manish Mehta

Global Head of Human Resources

To contact the authors of this story with feedback or news, email Bérengère Sim and David Ricketts