As a prospective employee in the financial services industry, Dana Lowe has credentials that should serve her well.
Ms. Lowe, 26, a native of Los Angeles, has an undergraduate degree from Columbia University and a law degree from Cornell. And her being black could also work in her favor, as many of the nation's largest financial services companies seek to increase minority hiring.
But while making her way through one of the lines last week at the 3d annual diversity career fair sponsored by the Urban Bankers Coalition, Ms. Lowe talked about the double-edged sword of being a minority in the corporate world.
Ms. Lowe said she sees her race as a potential plus in landing a job. But she knows it will not be a long-lasting advantage.
"As an African-American woman, I will have to work twice as hard to get ahead," she said. "I believe I will have to be the first one in the office in the morning and the last one out at night."
Other minority applicants waiting their turn to talk to companies such as Citigroup, Chase Manhattan Corp., American Express, and Bank of New York echoed Ms. Lowe's sentiments. They say getting to the top of the financial services heap is still a struggle for blacks.
"There's still a lot of racism and nepotism that goes on," said Frank Bryant 3d, a 37-year-old systems integrator. He was laid off recently and is looking for a position in project management at a financial services company.
Still, these candidates say the financial services sector has been embracing them like never before. For evidence, they pointed to the career fair.
This year 35 financial services companies sent recruiters, a jump from 18 last year, said Adlai Asante, president of the Urban Bankers Coalition. The organization promotes the development of minority professionals in the financial services sector in the New York area.
Companies recruiting at the event for the first time this year included PaineWebber, Prudential Securities, Fleet Financial Group, and Fidelity Investments.
"Companies used to say they can't find qualified minority candidates, but we are bringing them those people," said Mr. Asante, a former Chase Manhattan Corp. employee who works as a consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
"We're basically saying to companies, 'if you are interested in hiring, we will bring qualified folks who will meet your needs in an environment that you feel comfortable in.'"
Nearly 2,000 candidates, most in their 20s and 30s, queued up Thursday to make their case to recruiters in three- to five-minute time slots.
Conversations with job candidates suggested that certain companies have emerged as minority favorites, based on the job seeker's perception that these companies have taken extra steps to embrace black and Hispanic professionals. Two names that were mentioned repeatedly: Chase and American Express.
In the past two years, Chase Manhattan has formed 35 diversity councils designed to help minorities, gays and other groups. "Chase has developed a good reputation in the black community," Mr. Bryant said.
So has American Express. In addition to promoting diversity throughout the organization, the charge card and travel company has the best example yet of minority advancement in financial services: president and chief operation officer Kenneth I. Chenault.
Mr. Chenault, who is black, has been the No. 2 executive at American Express since February 1997. The fact that he has risen so high at such an influential company is heartening to Ms. Lowe.
"The promotion of Mr. Chenault sends signals that if you work hard and do excellent work, you will be judged on your merits," she said.