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How to nurture and retain Black engineering talent – employee network learnings from Goldman Sachs

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett November 1, 2023
Summary:
Four engineers at the investment bank share their career journeys and what keeps them at the business

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When David Obazuaye joined the Black Engineers Network at Goldman Sachs seven years ago, there were just enough Black professionals to fill up the room. Today, the firm could fill that room six or seven times over. 

The investment bank has some useful lessons for other businesses keen to increase the diversity of their tech workforce and retain Black employees once they’ve joined. 

Running a specific group like the Black Engineers Network is a key part of that. The affinity network is organized by the firm and its employees to support its Black population, with a focus on increasing diversity and recruiting efforts for Black people. 

Career development is another aspect. The network works on developing the bank’s Black population and their allies into leadership positions from a technical, soft skill and social perspective. Obazuaye, who is Vice President, Global Banking & Markets at Goldman Sachs, says:

The social and the networking side of things has been a huge benefit to me. It's connecting you with different people across the firm that you may have never met through your day-to-day role. For me personally, it's a very important network.

When Xavier Owens, Vice President, Global Investment Research Division, first joined Goldman Sachs 10 years ago, it was at the firm’s Salt Lake City office. The Black Engineers Network was an early lifeline, he recalls: 

I was hundreds of miles from home. I didn't really know anyone. There's not a huge population of Black people in Salt Lake City and I was keen to meet some like-minded people. That was a real shoe-in for me at the beginning of my career, to help create and expand not only my professional network, but personal network as well. We do social things outside of work.

For Pamela Vythelingum, Vice President, Core Engineering at Goldman Sachs, the power of groups like the Black Engineers Network became evident during the summer of 2020:

During the George Floyd horrors, it was a difficult time. We were in COVID as well and it impacted us all in some way. The firm reached out to everybody straight away and did a great job at looking after us. But it was also the affinity networks that were able to get close to people on the ground and feedback up to leadership, so that they knew what areas to focus on and where we needed support.

Vythelingum, who has 27 years of investment banking experience across SEB, UBS, Barclays and Goldman Sachs, has also been able to mentor young people through the Black Engineers Network. This has given her the opportunity to learn about the different backgrounds and journeys people are from or on. 

Internship experiences 

The Black Engineers Network has had a very direct impact on Oluwatofunmi Awodiji’s career, who is currently Analyst for Asset & Wealth Management at Goldman Sachs. Awodiji interned at Goldman Sachs in 2020 during Covid, and during her first panel session there were two Black engineers on the call. She explains: 

I reached out to them and I spoke to over 20 diverse people across the firm during that period, just based on the recommendations from those two people during my internship. It's a two-week internship, you have to make an impact very fast. The help of those two people made the internship what it was. That was my first view into Goldman through the Black Engineers Network.

During her next internship a year later, Awodiji returned to the group, which was again a huge help, especially around the social aspect. But its greatest impact has been since she joined the bank full-time last year:

I've been able to build a network. Moving from a different country, with no family here, I've had to build my network professionally and personally. Most of the people that I have met have become friends outside of work and I’ve been able to ask them questions like, where do I get food from, where do I braid my hair. Being able to see people who have gone through what I am currently going through and provide honest advice has been helpful.

Owens also joined Goldman Sachs originally via an internship. During his third year at the University of California, he got offered an internship in the Salt Lake City office, which led to a full-time offer. After a few years, he moved to New York, where he stayed for about five years.

Then 2020 happened. There was some political upheaval and of course COVID. It felt like a bit of a page turn for me.

Owens had always wanted to live abroad, and was able to take advantage of internal mobility, another aspect of Goldman Sachs that is a draw for its Black engineering cohort. The mobility program enables the bank’s employees to move into a different team in the same location, or the same or different teams across different regions:

I took mobility, and I asked very nicely to move to the London office. They said yes and here I am a few years later.

The whole process was a smooth one for Owens, who says mobility is definitely an encouraged practice. 

When you show merit and you show role competency in a firm like this, they absolutely accommodate and make things move to make sure you’re as happy as can be.

Awodiji has also taken advantage of mobility recently. She has been in her new team, the trading and booking team, for about two months, building the tools, processes and workflows to enhance trades for Private Wealth Management clients. 

While she’s now building a successful career at the firm, Awodiji’s journey into Goldman Sachs wasn’t plain sailing – but it’s one that shows the importance of relatable role models. In her third year of university, studying computer science, Awodiji was trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, and more importantly if she even wanted to work in computing. 

Then, she met an alumni who had just interned at Goldman Sachs and had received a full-time offer there. This alumni extolled the benefits of a career at the business, and Awodiji was inspired hearing about this global opportunity.

After researching the firm to understand why an investment bank would need engineers, Awodiji still had a question:

Are they looking for someone like me? I remember seeing this quote that said, 'Every expert was once a beginner and every day is an opportunity for you to learn'. I thought I might as well just try this out and learn at this company.

My take

Some useful insights from this group of Black engineers, whose careers span from three to 27 years, on how to attract and retain tech talent. Setting up an employee network is just the first step; using it to listen to staff and respond to their requests and needs is what will keep people motivated and happy.

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