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Nov 17, 2008 5:46 pm

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An irreverent Wall Street Blog
by Bill Singer Subscribe to RSS Feed: Blog Home | Past Entries Women and Minorities on Wall Street: Part Two Written: November 17, 2008

Okay, so some of you got it and some of you didn't.

Let me clarify.

The point of the last blog entry about FINRA's broadcast depictions of women and minorities was NOT to suggest that FINRA itself was racist or misogynist--I will leave that issue to be supported or refuted by the regulator's former and present employees. 

In 2007, NASD and NYSE decided to merge under the name of the Securities Industry Regulatory Authority, or S.I.R.A.  In July 2007, that name choice was abandoned and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority or FINRA chosen, in part, because of concerns about offending Muslims. Apparently, the SIRA acronym sounded too close to the "Sirah" -- Sirah Rasul Allah, means Life of the Apostle of God and is the Arabic term used to describe the traditional Muslim biographies of Muhammad. See this article for details and note this quote attributed to Mary Schapiro, then Chairman (Note: the title used in the article by the reporter, and likely the preferred usage by NASD/FINRA,  was Chair-"man" and not Chair, Chairperson, or Chairwoman) and CEO of NASD and now CEO of FINRA.:

“NASD values and respects the diversity of our employees, member firms and the wider community of investors that we serve. We operate in a global, multi-racial, multi-religion environment, and we strive to be sensitive and respectful to all,” Schapiro said in a statement.

In noting the roles in my prior blog entry of women, African-Americans, and South Asians depicted in the FINRA television commercials, I opined that such portrayals did not strike me as particularly sensitive or respectful.  Of the three television commercials, one shows a dog rolling over.  Fine, the dog was treated respectfully and with great sensitivity.  However, the only woman in the three ads is pushing a shopping cart in a "bear" supermarket.  The minorities depicted in a third commercial seem more suggestive of the usual suspects in a line-up rather than of hard-working, ethical professionals.  No--I agree--that commercial does not show a police line-up, but the context is that there may well be some bad guys trying to sell you stock, and call us (FINRA) for the low down.

For an organization headed by a woman and with many women and minorities within its ranks, FINRA should be all the more sensitive to the apparent and subliminal messages of its advertising. Surely, women are about more than pushing a shopping cart. It's not that the scene is unflattering as much as it perpetuates an image, particularly within the context of the three-part campaign, that men are the professionals on Wall Street and women are, at best, shoppers. Similarly, given how few minorities and women  make up the corps of stockbrokers on Wall Street,  I'm not sure that this is the time and place to highlight the allegedly ethnic and sexual mosaic of the FINRA regulated community--particularly when the actual statistics are not remotely on point.

If you still want to take issue with my point, here's what I would ask you to consider.  How many female, African-American, and South Asian CEOs and Chairpersons are there at the top 50 FINRA member firms?   Excluding, say, Stan O'Neal and Vikram Pandit, how many recent or current CEOs or Chairs with those same attributes can you even name? 

We now have Barack Obama set to enter the White House. We have Mary Schapiro at the helm of FINRA.  About 13% of the U.S. population is described as African-American. About 4% is described as Asian (a far more expansive category than South Asian). About 51% is female. I'd love to see the actual statistics, but I'll bet you that I'm right about the following:

51% of FINRA member firm stockbrokers are not women; 14% of FINRA member firm stockbrokers are not African-American; and 4% of FINRA member firm stockbrokers are not Asian.

Finally, yeah, I concede the point, our society as a whole doesn't measure up. That includes law firms. That includes accounting firms. That includes every aspect of our workforce when in comes to the built-in discrimination between higher and lower paying jobs. However, as to Wall Street, until we begin to approach the reality of our population mirroring our employee population, let's be a tad more sensitive about showing minorities in ads suggesting that some brokers are not honest, and let's be a tad more sensitive in presenting advertising campaigns that are one-third devoted to dogs rolling over and one-third devoted to women pushing shopping carts.