“…the data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking…”
Huh? What was that again? Who said that? And why would he say it?
The speaker is the president of a corporation which, among other things, has a major role in training many of the leading U.S. investment bankers. He employs those responsible for admitting would-be investment bankers to elite training programs, and he hires those who train them. The speech in which he expressed this opinion lacked both citations for the data he confidently relied on and a hypothesis for why he believed it to be true. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that in his executive role he would be poorly prepared to make sure that Catholics were not discriminated against in admissions or hiring.
The question of religious belief qualifications for the lucrative but not necessarily well-regarded job of investment banker is seldom discussed these days, though it was probably a major issue a generation or more ago. My own acquaintance with movers and shakers in the finance industry has been limited to dealings with venture capitalists and investment bankers in the high-tech industry, and religion didn’t play a major role in my transactions.
Ethnic stereotypes are a different matter. When I was in business I used my father’s White Anglo-Saxon Protestant name to balance my husband and partner’s Irish name on the management roster, and the stereotypically inclined were free to make whatever assumptions they wanted about our respective religions. They would usually be wrong, since I, despite my WASP name, was raised a Catholic, and Mike, despite his Irish name, was raised as a WASP, and neither one of us is now religious. When I used my WASP name, I did hear lots of anti-Catholic quips, even in the 90s.
Nevertheless, the financial field is now full of people with Irish and Italian names, and it’s a reasonable guess that many of them are Catholics. The tragic loss of hundreds of employees of the Cantor Fitzgerald bond firm in the World Trade Center, all of whose names were listed in various memorial tributes, spotlighted the diversity which now exists in high finance. But just because there’s diversity, prejudice has not necessarily vanished.
A Wall Street insider who witnessed the spectacle of Richard Grasso being drummed out of the president’s office at the Stock Exchange believes that Grasso’s Italian background was partly involved in the feeding frenzy over his high salary. This observer says that Italians have been traditionally supposed to do the lower level work in the back rooms of the Exchange. The fact that an Italian like Grasso rose through the ranks and ended up making more money than those who were supposed to be running things annoyed some, and they got rid of him.
The corporation president who opined that Catholics aren’t investment bankers has a surname that seems to be of English origin. Does this make a difference? His WASP name puts him in the position I was in, able to overhear anti-Catholic stereotypes in the course of doing business. Perhaps he unconsciously absorbed them, and they formed the basis for the data-free opinion quoted here. He says about himself “I am Jewish, identified but hardly devout,” and it’s even conceivable that he has subconsciously bought into stereotypes about superior financial acumen associated with his own ethnic group.
Why does any of this matter? Primarily because he’s an employer, and as an employer he has an obligation to obey laws against discrimination in employment and enforce them in his organization. He is most unwise, as an employer, to reveal his own stereotypic beliefs, if he does indeed hold them, because they give rise to justifiable suspicions that he is not complying with anti-discrimination laws in his corporation.
And, of course, for those of you who haven’t already guessed his identity, Lawrence Summers is now being accused of condoning discrimination against another under-represented group within his corporation, which is Harvard University. The part of his speech in which he elaborated on his opinions about women’s capabilities got the most attention, but maybe Catholics too should start checking out hiring patterns at Harvard Business School.
The flag of academic freedom has been erroneously waved over the discussion of Summers’ now infamous speech. He has, as a citizen, the right to think and say anything he wants, and in his role as a professor his right to do so on the job should also be protected. But when he’s speaking as the president of a corporation which is sitting on a $22.6 billion pile of capital, larger than the gross domestic product of Costa Rica, he has the responsibility of an employer, not a professor. His intemperate off-the-cuff remarks should give his board of directors (called Overseers in Harvard-speak) cause for concern about how well he’s carrying out his management duties. Like Caesar’s wife, the president of Harvard Inc. should be above suspicion of discrimination, whether against Catholics or against women.