NEW YORK – The financial services industry is moving too slowly in recruiting and retaining women and minorities, particularly at the executive level, and it needs to hold itself accountable, FINRA chief executive Richard Ketchum said on Thursday.

“We have to be impatient and we have to demand accountability,” Ketchum said, speaking at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s annual diversity conference. “We also from a senior level perspective have to stand up and admit where we have had successes and where were haven’t had successes.” 

Minority representation at entry-level and mid-level positions in financial services has been increasing slightly and stands at 20.4%, but has remained stagnant at the executive level, according to Donna Milrod, chief administrative officer at the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, a clearing and settlement company. Meanwhile, the number of women in the industry has declined on the whole, and 17% of Fortune 500 companies have no diversity on their boards, Milrod noted.

While most executives are well-intended and focus groups, conferences and mentorship programs are helping, firms are still too slow to act, said Suni Harford, the head of North American markets at Citigroup.

“We’re doing all the right things but at the end of the day if you’re going to move the needle particularly at the senior level, you have to do more than plan to retain talent,” Harford said. 

Harford said firms were waiting too long to promote women and minorities from mid-level director positions into C-suite executive positions. It should not take more than a year-and-a-half for talent that is ready to move into an executive position to actually move into a position. That may mean creating a position or speeding up a replacement.

“Two or three years? That’s ridiculous. They have mouths to feed and careers to manage,” Harford said. “It’s too easy to say when super talent walks out the door to go to competition that the timing wasn’t right.” 

RBC CEO John Taft said that he advocates using metrics and targets to help increase diversity talent. Taft said RBC tracks and monitors its female and minority numbers and tracks individuals based on whether they are near-term or long-term candidates to be in executive positions.

All business metrics and goals have targets attached to them, Taft said, and so should diversity. “Having said that, it’s not all about numbers,” he added. “It is also about creating a culture that not only tolerates differences and respects differences but goes on to celebrate differences.”

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