BlackRock Responds to Former Employees’ Claims of Racial and Sexual Discrimination

Two former BlackRock analysts sent an open letter to Larry Fink Thursday demanding change.

Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Two former employees are calling on BlackRock to address racial and sexual discrimination at the firm — and the $8.68 trillion asset manager is taking notice.

On Thursday, two former BlackRock analysts sent an open letter to the firm’s chief executive officer Laurence Fink saying they experienced racial and sexual discrimination while working at the firm.

Essma Bengabsia, who previously published a Medium blog post detailing her experiences at the firm, and Mugi Nguyai said in the letter that they are seeking to address the “systemic discrimination that under-represented groups continue to face” at BlackRock.

On Thursday evening, BlackRock’s global head of human resources, Manish Mehta, sent a memo to employees addressing the issues they raised.

“While we disagree with the portrayal of our firm in today’s blog post, we must acknowledge that there are former and current employees who have not experienced the culture that we aspire to at BlackRock,” Mehta wrote. “Moments like these underscore the urgency of our broader ambitions on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We know we have much work to do in building a culture of belonging.”

Bengabsia and Nguyai are calling on the company to conduct a survey of all employees regarding discrimination; issue an annual diversity, equity and inclusion report; publicly disclose data on pay, employee retention rates, hiring, and promotion rates broken out by race and gender; establish an HR intake form for self-reporting incidents; hire an independent firm to investigate the firm’s culture; establish an oversight committee; and make a commitment not to “sue, defame, or otherwise try to silence anyone who speaks out.”

Early in February, Bengabsia, an Arab American Muslim woman, published a Medium post that detailed her experiences at the firm. Among those detailed, Bengabsia alleged that when she did not participate in a Christmas sweater party, her colleague said, “Why don’t you just be American for once?”

In another instance, Bengabsia said a managing director at the firm “mimicked and mocked” how she said “Assalamu Alaikum,” a standard Muslim greeting, the post said.

Bengabsia reported these and the other instances detailed in her Medium post to BlackRock’s human resources team, according to the post. A spokesperson for BlackRock said via email that “the firm investigated but did not find she had been the subject of discrimination or harassment.” After Bengabsia published her letter, Mehta sent a memo to BlackRock’s employees similar to the one he sent out on Thursday, the spokesperson said.

Soon after, in May 2019, Bengabsia left BlackRock. “Throughout all of it, I just continued to be in absolute shock that this was actually happening,” Bengabsia told Institutional Investor by phone.

Nguyai, a Kenyan man, also left BlackRock in 2020 after raising concerns of racial discrimination and harassment. The letter he and Bengabsia sent to Fink alleges that he was retaliated against for reporting these experiences. He told II that he and Bengabsia met after they both left the firm.

Their Medium posts follow a lawsuit filed in January by another former employee, Brittanie McGee, which alleges that she faced discrimination based on her sex and race. The suit alleges that McGee was passed over for promotions and that she was paid less than her white male colleagues. McGee’s lawyers declined to comment.

“The firm has conducted a thorough review of Ms. McGee’s claims against BlackRock and found no basis for her legal claims,” BlackRock’s spokesperson said via email, adding that McGee received a promotion after her first two years and had been approved for another prior to her resignation.

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According to BlackRock’s letter to employees, the firm plans to share “additional steps to enhance and better communicate the process by which we investigate employee concerns or complaints.”

BlackRock also plans to expand its manager and employee training on behavior, conduct, and respect, the letter said. In early March, the firm will share its broader diversity, equity and inclusion strategy with employees, it said.