10,000 Black Interns: It is about culture rather than diversity

Michael Barrington-Hibbert, co-founder of 10,000 Black Interns and CEO of Barrington Hibbert Associates, spoke to Investment Week about how this can be changed for the better and how it is about tackling culture rather than simply hitting diversity targets.

10,000 Black Interns is a non-profit organisation founded in 2020, placing black students and graduates into paid internships across a range of industries. Participating firms include abrdn, Goldman Sachs, Redington, PGIM and Janus Henderson, to name a few.

It is targeting 10,000 placements for candidates within the next five years, having already completed more than 2,500 in its first two years.

Asking the why

Barrington-Hibbert said when a company approaches him about signing up to the programme, the first thing he asks them is why they want to take part.

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“I ask them to talk me through what they have already done from a gender standpoint for example, not in a way that I am trying to shame them, but to talk me through what they have already done on other factors,” he said. 

He explained that if it is simply a case that they just want to hire more people of colour, then they have missed the point.

“I am not a big fan of the word diversity, and what I mean by that is this is about culture.”

Culture shifts 

Barrington-Hibbert said a core part of preparing the candidates for their respective placements was not just about teaching them how to read balance sheets, but how to carry out “water cooler chat”.

“One of the challenges coming from an underrepresented group sometimes is imposter syndrome and not knowing how to communicate with employees around the water cooler,” he said.

As an example, in African culture if you are speaking to someone older than you as a sign of respect, you may shake the other person’s hand but would not look them in the eye.

“Whereas in British culture, if I had done that to my line manager, they would think I was untrustworthy,” he said.

But he added that it was not a case of rewriting a set of cultural practices for another, as “there is an element of education on both sides”. It is just as important that the line manager is mindful of other cultures and how they are represented within the company.

This was why it is crucial that firms looking to participate in the scheme can show what they are doing to develop internal talent and retention, because if a firm’s diversity quota is only high at the entry level, then it speaks to a company culture that is not prepared for true representation.

“They would be walking before they could even crawl,” Barrington-Hibbert said. “I think a lot a number of organisations will see the next new thing and throw their resources on it over 12 to 18 months and may or may not have the infrastructure to be able to do that.”

Initial and new targets

The programme launched amid a period of painful social reflection as the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the world, laying out socioeconomic disparities at an undeniable level, and the Black Lives Matter movement gained global attention following the murder of George Floyd in the US.

When companies joined up to the programme upon launch in 2020, Barrington-Hibbert said he did believe it was done with true good intent.

“When we did our trial period, we were in isolation. As a country, I know that there was a lot of pain, but people were also brought together and I do believe wholeheartedly that organisations at the time they made those commitments were supportive, and wanted to get behind that,” he said.

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Back at the initial launch, the founder said the genesis of what 10,000 Black Interns is today came from setting up a breakfast discussion with members of the UK financial services industry about why there was a lack of diverse talent within the sector.

“We were only able to find 12 black portfolio managers, out of thousands,” he noted.

From this, Barrington-Hibbert and his co-founders Wol Kolade, Dawis Konotey-Ahulu and Jonathan Sorrell, set up the intern movement, originally hoping to get at least 100 firms to sign up. They ended up oversubscribed with more than 200.

When asked why he had not thought they would hit this target, Barrington-Hibbert said: “It had never been a really important question before, and it had never been done.”

The group recently expanded its objectives, announcing the start of the 10,000 Able Interns next summer. Following the same template, it will aim to secure at least 100 internships for disabled students across the UK, growing this to 10,000 over time.

What you can do

The Covid-19 pandemic was referred to colloquially as one of the ‘great levellers’, with many firms forced to show how they were supporting employees, both financially via the furlough schemes and mentally.

These are factors made even more relevant amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, Barrington-Hibbert said.

“I do believe at the entry level, organisations are realising that they need to do a better job, because financial compensation for the gen Z population is not enough anymore,” he added. 

The founder also spoke about what those who are not in charge of hiring, are in management positions or are white can do to enable these positive changes.

“We have to ask questions in terms of what the organisation is just doing more broadly around culture, and again, it is not specifically aimed at ethnicity, or low socio-economic backgrounds,” he said.

“It is the simple case that if an organisation does not get their arms around culture and this evolution they will just be left behind.”

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