CLSA Trader Sparks Debate on Race at China’s Biggest Brokerage

A Black trader’s attempt to start a conversation about race at China’s biggest brokerage has cast a rare spotlight on how the state-owned company is grappling with issues of diversity as it expands overseas.

Misimi Osekita, a credit trader in the London office of Citic Securities Co.’s CLSA unit, sent an email to more than 100 employees in early June titled “Black Lives Matter,” according to people with direct knowledge of the correspondence. Writing in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Osekita urged his fellow traders to learn about the challenges faced by Black people in the U.S. and around the world.

“As a black person myself, the events of the past week hit home hard and brought back memories of all the racist encounters I have had, and continue to have, in both my professional and personal life,” Osekita wrote. “Currently I think I am the only black person at least in the London office, which can feel like a lonely walk at times.”

What followed was a reply-all email exchange between Osekita and Jodi Wang — CLSA’s head of human resources — that prompted some employees to criticize the way she handled the situation.

While Wang offered to help organize an open discussion on race and assured Osekita that discrimination isn’t tolerated at CLSA, she also said that “group work emails are not an appropriate platform to express personal views on non-work related topics.” Wang, who’s based in Hong Kong, encouraged Osekita to speak with her or Richard Ziegler, chief executive officer of CLSA’s U.K. business, about how best to discuss the topic.

“I think it’s disappointing that you see it as a non-work related issue,” Osekita responded, adding that her reply had made him uncomfortable discussing the issue with CLSA managers. “It shows that there is a lot of work to be done.”

The episode underscores how America’s reckoning on race is putting pressure on companies around the world to address employees’ concerns about diversity and inclusion. While CLSA is hardly the first to face criticism for the way it has responded, the firm has been less vocal about the topic than its Western peers.

In the U.S., industry bellwethers from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to JPMorgan Chase & Co. have in recent weeks vowed to elevate more Black executives and push forward with other initiatives on race — moves that Osekita alluded to in his reply to Wang. “I’d encourage you to take a look at how other investment banks are managing this situation and showing support for their black employees,” he wrote.

Read more:
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In an emailed response to questions from Bloomberg News, CLSA said it actively promotes equal opportunities and doesn’t discriminate on gender, race, ethnicity, physical ability or age. The firm added that it encourages discussions about diversity in the workplace and provides compulsory training on inclusion to all employees. CLSA didn’t disclose statistics on race for its staff in a November 2019 sustainability report; it said about 63% of its nearly 2,000 full-time employees were men.

Osekita, who is an associate director at CLSA, declined to comment.

Before it acquired CLSA seven years ago, Citic was an almost exclusively China-focused securities firm with an overwhelmingly Chinese staff. CLSA, founded in 1986 by two former journalists in Hong Kong, has always been more cosmopolitan and now has a workforce spanning 34 nationalities and 20 offices around the world.

Combining the two firms has at times been chaotic. Many of CLSA’s longest-serving international leaders have left over the past 18 months, in part due to a culture clash with the Chinese Communist Party members who run Citic.

Employing a global workforce is a relatively new phenomenon for China’s financial industry, which has tended toward Chinese staffers with Mandarin language skills even for roles in London or New York, said Bethan Howell, head of quantitative research and trading technology at Selby Jennings Hong Kong, a recruiting firm.

“Generally speaking, I would say that Western firms are a lot more diverse in their hiring,” Howell said.

China’s financial giants will have to catch up on diversity if they want to compete internationally, said Jerry Chang, a managing director at Barons & Co., a management consultant.

“Chinese banks going global need to understand what their competitors are doing and adapt to attract top talent,” Chang said. “Sensitive issues require careful handling.”

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