Voice of Experience: Ana Duarte-McCarthy, Chief Diversity Officer, Citigroup Inc.

duarteMccarthy_1_.jpgby Paige Churchman (New York City)

One April morning in 1994, Ana Duarte-McCarthy put on a brand new suit, rode the train down to Wall Street and joined the flow of rushing pedestrians. She may have looked like any other commuter, but for Ana this was a banner day. She was on her way to her first day of corporate life – a new job at Kidder, Peabody & Co. A meringue band played in her head (who needs an iPod?), and headlines like “Dominican Makes It to Wall Street” flashed through her brain. It was clear and sunny, just another Monday morning for the other workers. They didn’t look up at the young woman in the snappy khaki suit with the navy pinstripes. (It still hangs in her closet.)

Ana was in for some major culture shock. Not too many art school deans end up in investment banking. Ana had been assistant dean at Parsons The New School for Design. There she had learned how to scrounge for even the smallest resources. At Kidder, Ana’s eyes grew big when the morning coffee came on elegant silver tea services. “I think I was at Kidder three weeks when they gave me $3000 to take eight minority interns to Yankee Stadium,” she laughed. “And then they asked what else I wanted.” Art students don’t wear suits, and neither do their deans. Art students and their deans wear black. Also, at Kidder, she was suddenly back in middle management – smaller office, no longer running the show – but she expected that. She was eager to learn.

A friend had told her that Kidder was looking for a diversity manager, and Ana’s interest was piqued. Though she had no business background, Ana had a lot going for her: a Master’s in counseling psychology from Columbia, a passion for diversity (she’d been using her perc as an employee of the New School to gobble up every course in gender and racial identity she could find), and a string of accomplishments at Parsons, including a few years running its Higher Education Opportunity Program that helped talented young artists who don’t meet traditional admissions requirements find their way. She’d moved up quickly at the art school, but inside a voice whispered “I could do more.” Time to stretch her wings.

Ana is like a heat-seeking missile, except the heat she seeks out is institutions in transformation. Not that she’s trying. As a high school senior, she had failed to notice that one of her college choices, Lafayette College, had only recently gone coed. She liked Lafayette because it was small and not far from home (Summit, New Jersey). It wasn’t until she started classes that she looked around and saw that she was one of very few women. In fact, Lafayette still hadn’t dealt with how the female students would eat. There was a dining program for freshmen, but after that…well, the idea was that you’d pledge a fraternity and eat there. Women had to find frat boys who’d let them tag along as guests. So Ana and some friends founded a sorority (today, Ana Duarte and her “sisters” who were charter members are names that every new pledge has to learn) and fed themselves. Then, in case anyone felt excluded, Ana joined some other friends to start a dining program for women who didn’t care to join a sorority. Since then, Lafayette has come a long way. “Like other schools, it’s taken a really great approach to shifting the culture,” she said. “They’ve moved away from a predominant fraternity lifestyle.” And, she notes, the women’s organization has sustained itself for 25 years now.

When she said yes to Kidder, no one knew what was coming. April 1994 was a big month for the white shoe firm. As the new diversity manager stepped in the door, Kidder was firing its prize trader, an African-American named Joseph Jett, for alleged fraud. Kidder was all over the media. People inside the firm were nervously dusting off their resumes. Kidder was sold to PaineWebber, and in 1995 Ana found an even bigger universe to learn inCiticorp. “I liked Citi’s footprint, its globality,” she said. She was also excited by one of Citi’s new programs. “They were focusing on HR leadership development.” she said.

What it really comes down to is that Ana cares about equity. She always has. Maybe it came from hearing her parents talk about the Dominican Republic and the political activist friends and family they’d lost there. However Ana was born in the U.S. and cites more direct experiences. Like when she saw her fourth grade teacher cry. The class was watching Dr. King’s funeral. Mrs. Gordy was African-American. “I didn’t understand the civil rights movement, but I was very moved that Mrs. Gordy was crying,” she said. If Mrs. Gordy opened Ana’s heart, Mrs. Vezzosi showed Ana the power of gentle words and action. It was fifth grade, and Ana was a new kid in school. When a classmate taunted her about her darker complexion, Mrs. Vezzosi didn’t let the moment go by. She gave the class an impromptu speech on race and ethnicity. “I remember the stigma I felt of being labeled and how much I appreciated what Mrs. Vezzosi did,” said Ana. “That was not the last time I was openly discriminated against, and since then my response has been to deal with it head on.” She credits her high school, Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child, for instilling “a sense of purpose, faith, humility” and for making her believe that women could achieve anything. “So when I entered systems (college, work) where there was inequity between groups,” she said, “I fundamentally believed it wasn’t right and felt it was important to do something about it.”At Citi she’s been thrilled to see that change can happen. (She hesitates to claim credit for any of these efforts, saying only that many good people were involved.) Some highlights for Ana:

  • Women’s Leadership Development Program in conjunction with the UCLA Anderson School of Management. The debut program ran in New York with local participants, but by November they were ready to go again with Citi women from all over the globe. Ana hopes the program will help women break through to the bigger jobs.
  • Employee Networks were launched in 2002. There are now 44 of them all over the world. There’s a working parents network, 13 gay pride networks, women’s networks, an Asian Pacific network, to name a few. As one of the founding members of the Private Bank Women’s Network, I can vouch for the importance of these grassroots networks. It was without question the most fulfilling experience I had at Citi. We produced events, started a mentoring program and several volunteer initiatives. I connected on a common vision with amazing women I never would have met otherwise.
  • Code of Conduct. Citi’s code of conduct now includes gender identity and expression. Adding a few words to corporate policy means a lot of meetings and policy briefings, but in the end it’s worth it. “It’s very important,” says Ana, “To be cognizant of the areas where people do not feel included in the workplace.”
  • Citi Takes Diversity Very Seriously. Ana stands up in front of the Board of Directors once a year to talk about what’s being done in diversity and to get their input. And all the diversity efforts are reported annually in Citi’s Corporate Citizenship Report . (“Our problem now is getting people to read it!” laughs Ana.)

As we watch President Obama take the oath of office, Ana is feeling very hopeful. “It’s a transformational time in the industry and in the economy,” she said. “Assumptions have been broken, and individuals that were considered untouchable are now absolutely open to consideration. It’s particularly exciting for people who work in diversity because we have this incredible opportunity to put some real strength and value around the idea that anyone—given talent and negotiating skills—can achieve his or her highest aspiration. President-elect Obama is a wonderful example. I’m hoping it will shift paradigms. That’s very exciting to me.”