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To weed out data bias, hire more Black analysts

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In the quantitative, or “quant,” analytics field, there is a growing understanding that despite best efforts, human bias and incomplete historical datasets can lead to flawed models.

The outcomes often result in adverse impacts on Black consumers and minority communities. To me, as a Black female professional, this is more than theoretical. It’s personal.

I am one of three Black professionals on a 25-person team, which also includes several colleagues representing different nationalities. Quants like us strive to create a world that is more equitable by allowing the data to assist in uplifting, empowering and supporting a diverse customer base while identifying and mitigating bias. That’s why there needs to be more diverse quants across the banking industry and other professions.

Black people need to be part of the teams that mine, model and analyze inferences from data. When there isn’t diverse representation among teams, aspects that affect certain demographics face a larger chance of being overlooked. If algorithms are reshaping our lives, we need to be present within that reshaping.

The benefits of removing bias are clear. It leads to greater access to capital for diverse consumers while enhancing revenue creation for banks, bringing together the ethics of equality and fiduciary responsibility. A key step in reaching this goal is to consistently embrace diversity, equity and inclusion in the talent pipelines.

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Consider my experience. After graduating from Spelman College, an all-female historically Black college/university in Atlanta, I applied for more than 200 analyst roles. Yet, I couldn’t land an interview.

Out of necessity, I broadened my scope beyond analyst positions and scored my first interview. When I arrived, they told me the role was filled and offered a different job at a lower wage. I declined, feeling discouraged and disappointed.

I understood as a recent graduate that there were factors, such as lack of experience, that limited my opportunities. However, there was an additional layer I had to consider as a minority job seeker.

During my job search, I was encouraged multiple times to change the name on my resume to something more common, such as my nickname, Troy. Doing this is not uncommon.

A Harvard Business School study revealed that when ethnic-sounding names were changed on resumes, the likelihood of getting a call-back rose from 10% to 25%. I considered making the change, but when I thought about the principles instilled in me, I couldn’t. If I was not selected because of my name, then that opportunity was not for me. It took some time, but I eventually earned my first role as a financial analyst.

My next career move was different. Here, I had the benefit of sponsorship that’s not always attainable by many minority candidates. A family member at Regions spoke with his manager about my skillset, which led to an interview for a role I had long desired. Staying true to myself, perseverance and sponsorship are what ultimately led me to become a risk quantitative model validation analyst with Regions Bank.

I share this because it’s a snippet of the experience that is often left out of what many Black people face when striving to attain a quantitative role. The “who you know” doesn’t always work for us, and that’s why there must be an intentional effort to build minority representation in the quant pipeline.

My move to Regions is a great example of the value of sponsorship. I credit the leaders at Regions for providing opportunities for career development and advancement, along with making an intentional effort to build a diverse and inclusive pipeline.

As we’ve welcomed more minority talent, my team has also consistently focused on ways to foster greater diversity of thought within our group to ensure many voices are heard, and diverse perspectives considered.

The journey toward greater diversity and inclusion must encourage greater authenticity in the workplace. This is due to cultural disparities frequently hindering minorities from feeling comfortable with thinking freely or speaking up when their opinion is not in the majority. This can lead to groupthink, despite the presence of some diverse individuals in the room.

There is a stigma around “bringing your authentic self” to work, especially among Black women. They face the double whammy of being female and Black, and the lack of cultural awareness by those who deem their hair and dialect as unprofessional. This leads to a constant internal battle about what professionalism truly is, thereby forgoing a part of themselves to advance or be successful — something often referred to as “code-switching.”

Most people do this to some degree, but it goes beyond simply trying to fit in for Black women. Turning off part of their identity is a means of survival. It’s mentally taxing.

And there’s added pressure when mixed with the current social climate. It’s challenging to try to do your best work while not acknowledging the trauma caused by things like the coronavirus pandemic (which has disproportionately affected Black lives), and ongoing examples of racial injustices shown in the news.

More often now, I have been able to let my guard down and de-condition myself from feeling the need to code-switch. This has helped me develop great relationships with others at Regions and to be more of my authentic self.

Most important, I have a unique opportunity to assess models for their potential bias and be a part of vital conversations that create opportunities for other minorities. I encourage all banks to consider taking a deeper dive not just into their datasets, but into the diversity of their mindsets.

The opinions expressed in the article are statements of the author’s opinion, are intended only for informational purposes, and are not formal opinions of, nor binding on Regions Bank, its parent company, Regions Financial Corporation and their subsidiaries, and any representation to the contrary is expressly disclaimed.

Troynica Green’s BankThink post is a part of our annual Women in Banking series. Others featured in this series include Regions Financial CEO John Turner, U.S. Bank’s chief diversity officer, Greg Cunningham, and Grovetta Gardineer, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s senior deputy comptroller for bank supervision policy.

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