A former analyst for BlackRock has accused the American multinational investment management corporation of discrimination on the grounds of her race, religion, and gender. In a Medium post, Essma Bengabsia shares that she joined BlackRock through a diversity cohort within the 2017 summer internship program.
Returning in 2018 as a full-time analyst, Essma Bengabsia said she thought the company was sustainability-oriented and committed to diversity and inclusion, adding that she set out to be an unapologetic Muslim woman of color impact investor.
As the first hijab-wearing woman to work on any trading floor at BlackRock and the only one on a trading floor in BlackRock’s headquarters in New York, Essma Bengabsia was thrilled to break a glass ceiling and chart into new frontiers on behalf of marginalized and underrepresented communities.
During her first month on the trading floor in August 2018, Essma Bengabsia said a managing director mimicked and mocked how she pronounced As-salamu alaykum after hearing a phone call she was having with her parents. In another instance, colleagues talking amongst themselves in front of her made disparaging remarks about people in the Middle East while another older male colleague often leered at her.
The following month, she was faced with condescending and stereotypical questions from senior colleagues regarding the lifestyle in the Middle East, disregarding all clarifications provided by Essma Bengabsia with the colleague sticking to his belief despite new testimony. Later that week, the managing director heading up diversity & inclusion remarked that Essma Bengabsia did not have an American name despite being informed that Essma Bengabsia was born in Brooklyn and has only ever lived in America.
To understand why this testimony is relatively unknown to the general public, one must only remember that BlackRock has $8.67 trillion in assets under management as of January 2021 and in the week since Essma Bengabsia’s Medium post has gone viral, only Business Insider covered the petition signed calling for change at BlackRock. At the time of publishing, BlackRock did not respond to a query pertaining to these accusations.
Speaking with Collective Audience, Essma Bengabsia said that she joined BlackRock with enthusiasm for its perceived diversity, equity, and inclusion as the company presented itself in the public image.
“Through my own lived experiences, I have come to learn that this isn’t necessarily the case,” she said. “This isn’t to say that everyone who shares my identity necessarily shares my experience; however, in the case that an under-represented person faces discrimination or harassment, BlackRock’s accountability system is broken and does not sufficiently address these matters.”
Featured in a 2015 Harvard Business School case study, the accountability system at BlackRock claims to have redesigned it’s key human resources processes to minimise the potential for bias and foster diversity. The company claims that senior business leaders make it a priority to ensure that all employees in their groups understand why diversity is important for success, with the company claiming to equip staff with tools and knowledge to foster inclusion.
“As BlackRock explores how to move forward from here, it can start by assessing crucial data points that will unveil its own diversity challenges: percent of new hires who are diverse, attrition rates broken out by gender and race, and promotion rates broken out by gender and race,” said Essma Bengabsia. “These data points alone would shine light on the very issues I faced at BlackRock; racism, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and Islamophobia.”