A Banker Says Being Seen as a Diversity Hire Caused Resentment

Brigette Lumpkins says she was optimistic about a Wall Street career until she encountered stereotyping and unequal treatment.

Brigette Lumpkins, 46, started her Wall Street career at Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2006, about two years before the New York-based securities firm filed for bankruptcy protection in the global financial crisis. She later worked for Barclays Capital, which acquired some parts of Lehman out of bankruptcy, and then for Hamilton Lane in New York and for Goldman Sachs in Miami. Today she is a Miami-based director of business development for EisnerAmper, an advisory and accounting firm. Lumpkins spoke with Bloomberg Markets about her experiences as a Black woman on Wall Street. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Lehman put me on their European equities desk, which was probably the least prestigious role. But for me it was a come-up because my mother was born on a sharecropping plantation.

I showed up with such optimism about what I was capable of accomplishing because by then I had studied up and figured out what I needed to know. I was more than prepared. I speak French. I lived there. I was literally perfectly qualified to be on that desk. It was a good hire.

What I learned afterwards is that their diversity officer had basically been like, we need to bring this woman in and we’re going to put her on your desk because you need people. So I think I got sort of rammed down their throat. I was perceived as a diversity hire and I think that was part of the resentment against me.

That year to 18 months leading up to the bankruptcy I had a lot of stress related to being pigeonholed or being stereotyped as “combative”—that was the word.

That’s what sunk my career at Lehman (and) Barclays, that angry Black woman trope, absolutely. As Black women, we’re not allowed to have normal, angry feelings. The minute we have a regular, normal reaction, they act like we’re all scary.

Every single year at Lehman and Barclays, I was grossly underpaid relative to my colleagues. Grossly, shockingly, eye-poppingly underpaid relative to my peers who were White. When I told one person [an Asian-American], she was like, “Brigette, I don’t even want to tell you what I got because I feel so bad.” When you get underpaid three, four, five years in a row, 10 years later that’s compounded in your 401(k), in your savings account. I still feel the financial impact in my life right now today. If I had gotten paid just one year what I deserved—that was comparable, I should say, to my peers—then I would be in a very different position.

I think that for some people Lehman had a great culture. Not for me. I think Lehman was extremely racist and extremely sexist.

Goldman has class the way they treat their employees, they really do. As a former employee and as a Black woman, I really cannot tell you anything that Goldman as an institution or management did that was wrong. They really are a class act.

The opportunity to say this now is cathartic for me because I’ve had to keep it private for so long and was so frustrated. And hearing other people share their stories validates me. I don’t feel like a victim of this experience, but I feel empowered by this experience. I feel that it is a badge of honor that I am happy to share. I don’t think it was my destiny to be a Wall Street conquerer—I think it was my destiny to be a witness. While I have the mic, I do not yield my time.

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