Voice of Experience: Edie Hunt, Chief Diversity Officer and Advising Director, Goldman Sachs

This week The Glass Hammer is publishing a series of profiles on top leaders in corporate diversity. Check back all week long to learn about the women making a difference.

EdieHuntBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

“I say this with rose colored glasses,” began Edie Hunt, Chief Diversity Officer and Advising Director at Goldman Sachs, “but I wait for the day when we don’t need an Office of Diversity and Inclusion – because everyone gets it.”

Hunt has spent the majority of her career advocating for diversity, initiating powerful ideas like Goldman Sachs’ Returnship, its women’s network, and its practice of awarding fellowships to diverse rising stars. She predicts that day when diversity offices are no longer needed is still 15 to 20 years in the future, but says she’s pleased with the current progress of the field.

“I think the next idea in diversity will be the concept of diversity being for everyone,” she said. “We had a watershed moment in 2010 during our Americas Diversity Week, which was that diversity is not about having events for women, Asians, LGBT employees, or any specific group. But that the events were for everyone in the firm to learn about the unique attributes of everyone else in the firm.”

She explained, “We have celebrations and events throughout the year. Whereas, five years ago at a women’s history month event, we’d have 95% women, now I’d say there’s at least 30% men. That is really where we want diversity to be heading.”

Hunt is also pleased to see an increase in the number of line managers taking the issue seriously. “I think the layer of people who really don’t live and breathe diversity initiatives is becoming thinner and thinner.”

Career Path

Hunt graduated with an MBA from the University of Chicago, and after working at Citibank for five years, she was hired by a former boss to work in personnel at J. Aron & Company, a small commodities trading firm. “That’s rule number one – always keep your network flowing,” she said. Ten months later, Goldman Sachs bought the firm and merged it with its Fixed Income division—and Hunt was given the option to try something new, an opportunity to join the commodities desk.

Initially, precious metals was a profitable business in the ‘80s, but when prices came down, Hunt said, “I was cordially invited to interview for a job elsewhere at Goldman Sachs.” She moved into the Fixed Income sales business, gradually gaining more experience, and she became Chief Administrative Officer for the Fixed Income division.

When Fixed Income was merged with the Currency and Commodities division, Hunt split the new CAO job with her Currency and Commodities counterpart. Back then, HR was siloed into the different divisions within the firm, but shortly thereafter, it was reorganized into its own Human Capital Management division. “At the time, I could have stayed in my job, but I took the opportunity to get involved in the recruiting division. And I found success – I was given more and more responsibilities, and I went on to become named Co-COO for HCM, and was then promoted to partner in 2004.”

From 2008 to 2011, Hunt was responsible for diversity, recruitment, training, and various other initiatives. “I retired as a partner at the end of last year – I continue as an advising director, which is an arrangement many retired partners have here. I’m responsible for carrying forward the culture of the firm, and I’m still the Chief Diversity Officer.”

Taking Risks

Hunt said she benefited from the culture of the Fixed Income division early in her career, which helped shape her views on diversity. “I had managers even in the ‘90s who were interested in diversity and wanted to do something to increase diversity.”

She continued, “Part of that is because it’s an easy place to measure and acknowledge people for their contributions.”

It was in Fixed Income that Hunt started the women’s network, annual talent reviews, and the notion of giving fellowships to diverse candidates, all of which the firm continues today.

Nevertheless, she says, there are some things she wishes she had understood during the early part of her career. “One thing I wish I had known is the importance of pressing boundaries and moving outside your comfort zone.”

She explained, “While running the Fixed Income administrative department, I felt I had the best job in the world. The only problem was that I wasn’t growing professionally. I wish I had learned earlier that it is smart and important to take risks.”

For instance, she continued, her move to the recruiting organization was a significant risk – as a new division, it meant starting from scratch. But it also set her on the path to partnership.

Diversity in the Financial Services

“I think the financial services industry is among the more progressive industries when it comes to diversity initiatives. Financial services companies know they’re only as good as their people.”

She is particularly proud of Goldman’s work to increase the number of women returning to the industry after taking time out. “One initiative that I think is very important and has a lot of legs is our Returnship program,” Hunt said. “We were seeing that when women and some men left the workforce, it was hard to get back in.”

She continued, “We had years and years of success with our summer interns, and we thought why not do an internship for a different population?”

The Returnship program gives people who have left work for a period of time – for example, to care for young children – a chance to reenter the workforce. The program lasts eight to ten weeks, and participants can use it as a “reentry vehicle,” Hunt explained. “I’m very proud to say that 50% of people who participate in the Returnship return to the firm full time, and those who don’t find a position at the firm certainly had a valuable credentialing experience.”

After kicking off in New York, the program has been successfully introduced in Hong Kong and London, and it’s the inspiration for other programs as well. “It’s a good formula for us to increase the diversity of lateral hiring, and we’re using it as a model for our recent emphasis on serving returning veterans.”

In addition to the Veteran Internship Program (VIP) which is modeled on the Returnship program, Goldman Sachs also recently launched its Veterans Network, which provides firmwide leadership on veterans’ affairs. The Network helps the firm recruit talented troops who are transitioning to the civilian workforce.

“We just finished up our first VIP, which was a tremendous success,” Hunt said, adding that she hopes other financial companies will use the program as a model for their own veterans’ initiatives. “Unlike most things in this industry, where it is highly competitive and we’re eager to beat the next firm to the punch, what I think is unique to diversity is the willingness to share best practices.”

She continued, “I think the diversity of the industry is expanding, which is good for diversity initiatives more broadly.”

Women in Financial Services

“Very realistically, the fact remains that even as our society becomes more egalitarian, women still bear more of the family responsibilities,” Hunt explained. “There’s an extra burden in addition to wanting to give your all to your career in order to advance.”

“There’s an awful lot to get done in 24 hours, and that burden becomes a little more challenging with family responsibilities. It’s a social and structural issue that continues to present more challenges for women than for men. How can we respond to that?”

Hunt suggested that firms can help women with family challenges when possible – like providing back-up childcare, as Goldman Sachs does. “We also have to stay on top of high performing women to encourage them to have the conversation with their manager, when it comes to time off and coming back to work.”

The other part, she continued, comes down to carefully tracking the careers of high performers – both men and women – and ensuring they stay in the pipeline to leadership. “That lets them know they’re important to us and provides motivation to get through some tough moments.”

Hunt says she gives the same advice to young women and young men in the industry. “The first part is building a network,” she said. “Take advantage of every opportunity to extend the number of relationships you have within and outside the company. It makes life richer and more enjoyable to learn about other kinds of careers. You also get to hear about openings and get on the radar screen.”

“My second piece of advice is about posting people on your achievements and successes.” She explained, “People think, ‘can’t I just keep my head down and do a good job?’ People will notice, but doing a good job is a necessary condition – your work as a professional doesn’t stop there.”

“Information is currency in the financial services industry – share the accomplishments of your team with your boss, who can use that for the benefit of the firm as a whole. It also gives you the opportunity to have continual dialogue with people at more senior levels about what you’re involved in and what your contribution might be,” she added.

In Her Personal Time

Outside the office, Hunt enjoys philanthropic work. “Especially now that I have the opportunity to work as an Advisory Director, I have the joy of a new schedule. I can devote more time and energy to not-for-profits I feel very strongly about.”

One group she works with is Women’s Campaign International, which supports the economic and political empowerment of women in post-conflict environments. “There’s an interesting corollary to the work the firm is doing through the 10,000 Women program.”

The second organization Hunt is involved with is New Jersey Needs You. “It’s a spin-off from the New York Needs You program. It’s a two-year mentoring and skill building program to keep first generation college students enrolled, and set them up with an internship.”

“Only 11% of first generation college students who enroll in college actually graduate. There are many programs designed to prepare people for college, but very few designed to keep them in college.”

She added, “As a long-time New Jersey resident with an interest in education, this is an organization that really resonates with me.”