Leading the charge to attract black talent

12 Mar 2019

Leading the charge to attract black talent

Meet Valerie Rainford, financial executive and force for change in workplace equality.

When JPMorgan Chase launched a new initiative to attract and retain black talent, Valerie Rainford, one of America’s leading financial executives, was tapped to lead the charge. Her diversity efforts – both inside and outside the workplace – have inspired would-be leaders across the world.

A few years ago, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase admitted that his company had a black talent problem. “While we think our effort to attract and retain black talent is as good as at most other companies,” he said, “it simply is not good enough.”

To address this issue, the bank launched its Advancing Black Leaders (ABL) strategy. The program recently celebrated its third anniversary.

The launch couldn’t have come soon enough. In 2017, just 3% of JPMorgan Chase’s US-based executive or senior-level managers were African American, 7.5% were Asian and 4.3% were Hispanic/Latino, compared to 84.3% white.

Strategies for success

When ABL was introduced in February 2016, Rainford had already been with JPMorgan Chase for eight years. Before that, she was the first African American woman to be a Senior Vice President at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. During her 21-year career there, she launched a diversity council and an employee networking group.

Rainford’s new role as head of ABL involves developing strategies and programmes to attract, hire, retain and advance black people at every level of the organisation.

These initiatives include increasing the junior talent pipeline, making more scholarships available and identifying development opportunities. In addition, ABL provides bias-awareness training for all executive directors and managing directors.

Diversity drive

While the name of the strategy shows a clear focus on the black community, Rainford insists there are no limits on the company’s diversity drive.

“When we see an opportunity where we want to do better, we’re bold enough to make the change. ABL is that kind of strategy, and we’re not stopping there.”

“We’ll continually look at ways to help other communities within the company,” she insists.

With a bottomless well of motivation, Rainford has become a key figure in the fight for workplace equality. Outside of her main role at JPMorgan Chase, she serves on numerous diversity councils and speaks at events to inspire leadership success in audiences of all ages.

Life story

Rainford has published a memoir through her own boutique publishing company, Elloree Press.

“Until the Brighter Tomorrow: One Woman’s Courageous Climb from the Projects to the Podium” charts Rainford’s extraordinary life. The daughter of southern sharecroppers, she went on to achieve educational success and rise through the corporate ranks.

“For years I didn’t share my story, not because I was ashamed of it but because I didn’t think anyone would be interested in hearing it. I didn’t want to be pitied. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me,” she explains.

“But at some point, I realised that it wasn’t enough for just me to be successful, I wanted to inspire others to achieve unimaginable success as well.

“It was in telling the story that I realised its power to spark hope in others experiencing similar challenges. Every time I told it, at least one person approached me to say that the story helped them draw courage and strength to keep pushing through difficult times.

“So I thought to myself, if I can change one life by telling the story to small audiences, how many lives can I change if I write the story so that people all over the world would be inspired?”

The book has been awarded a silver medal in the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Awards for ‘Best New Voice: Non-Fiction’. It also inspired the creation of the ‘Until the Brighter Tomorrow’ Girl Scouts badge, which is a source of particular pride for Rainford.

Paying it forward

At around the time that she joined JPMorgan Chase, Rainford co-founded the Black Women of Influence (BWOI) network, along with fellow businesswomen Marsha Haygood and Michelle Taylor-Jones.

The network provides peer support for professional women of colour and offers a range of workshops and events to help them build successful lives and careers. Each year, BWOI honours trailblazers who work to open doors for women and underserved communities.

Rainford recognises that empowerment, as well as a sense of sisterhood, needs to grow from the ground up.

Rainford also helped found the New York-based Black Women for Black Girls Giving Circle. The purpose of the group is to demonstrate positive leadership and support the future success of the younger generations.

The organisation’s campaign slogan ‘Believe in a Black Girl’ has become a pledge adopted by women around the globe.

“Little black girls that we reach out to today…will follow in our footsteps,” says Rainford. “They need us to be role models of strength, courage and resilience – and above all, they need for us to show them that we can be sisters, that we can be successful, and that there’s more than enough room for all of us to win.”

This article is an excerpt from a piece by Louise Hoffman in the latest ‘Women, Diversity and the Path to Greater Inclusion’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson global magazine, OBSERVE.

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