Perceptions abound about the dearth of minorities and women in management and leadership positions in the securities industry, but hard. facts about the issue are in short supply.

The U.S. government's chief civil rights official is sure of one thing. "There is a major problem in every area except the lowest level employees," said Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Yesterday, the commission concluded three days of hearings on racial tensions in New York City. Some testimony during the sessions focused on the lack of minorities in the securities industry and possible remedies.

A final commission report on the proceedings, including any recommendations for policy changes, is not expected for about a year. But testimony did underscore the dearth of hard information on minorities and women securities professionals.

Testimony from officials of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the New York Stock Exchange revealed that none of those agencies have definitive numbers on women and minorities in the securities industry.

"We do perceive that the problem exists," said Richard H. Walker, a regional director of the SEC.

In an internal staff report-obtained by The Bond Buyer, the commission states that a "preliminary review of" data obtained by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on minority hiring by companies in the New York financial industry reveals that minorities are under-represented in white collar positions and over-represented in blue collar positions."

The report cites 1990 U.S, Census Bureau data indicating that 6.2% of New York City's black residents and 6.4% of its Hispanic residents age 16 and over are employed in insurance, real estate, and other financial industries.

In addition, 12.4% of black workers and 6.2% of Hispanic workers are employed in professional industries, the report said.

Another chart, compiled on the basis of news reports, showed that the percentage of women in top management positions at selected Wall Street firms ranged from 3.2% to 5.6%.

The Civil Rights Commission's final report will include information on minorities and women in the financial industry. The report may be the first to actually provide widespread data on the topic, including the numbers of women, blacks, and minorities employed and what types of positions they hold, a commission staff attorney said.

In a brief interview Tuesday, Berry explained why the commission's investigation included a focus on the municipal securities industry.

The majority of blacks in investment banking work in the municipal finance industry, Berry said. This phenomenon has been influenced by the increase in the number of African-Americans and to a lesser degree Hispanic politicians, which has "made it attractive to firms to include [minorities]" to attract business, she said.

During the hearings, therefore, the commission wanted to take a look at the municipal industry and how it operates, as well as examine who makes up the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, its regulatory body, Berry said.

An examination of equal opportunity in the finance industry was a likely topic for New York hearings because the city is the center of the country's financial community, she said. "Wall Street is an obvious concern," Berry said.

In addition, the commission has not looked at the finance industry before, and "we wanted to look at the economic issues," she said. "If you' re going to come to New York and you're concerned about economic opportunities" and the role that capital plays, "an obvious target is Wall Street," she said.

The Civil Rights Commission chairwoman said she met with Arthur Levitt, chairman of the SEC, last Friday at his invitation to discuss the hearing and allegations that the MSRB's recently enacted curb on political contributions adversely affects women and minorities. Berry lauded Levitt for his planned policy statement advocating increased hiring of women and minorities at major Wall Street firms. She said she explained to Levitt why some minorities had raised concerns about inclusion.

"Serious questions do have to be raised," Berry said. "Part of the history of African-Americans is that the rules are changed once we get into the game," she said.

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