Many people have bemoaned the lack of racial and ethnic diversity within and around the profession, noting the obvious fact that the makeup of the financial planning and investment advisory industry, and the ranks of its practitioners, fail to reflect the demographics of American society as a whole. Chuck Widger didn’t just talk about the problem; he has done something about it.
Brinker Capital’s founder, chairman, and CEO, Widger was recognized for his efforts in establishing the Gateway to Leadership internship program at an April 24 dinner co-hosted by The Money Management Institute (MMI) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Gateway to Leadership, which debuted in 2007, places African American students in summer internship positions at some of the biggest financial services firms. “When you look at the financial services industry, there is an under-representation of minorities,” explains Widger. “Only 2% of the workforce in this industry is African American–something is wrong with that.”
In 2006, Widger and the co-originator of the program, Chris Davis, decided to put a program together to give these students opportunities in the industry. “We met with the NAACP and told them what we had in mind,” recalls Widger. “Once we obtained that commitment, we called on members of the board of the MMI and some of them got involved as well.”
After a screening process that scanned students’ academic records, extracurricular activities, and leadership positions, 19 students were selected to participate in the 2007 program. The students came from a select group of historically black colleges and universities (Bennett College, Florida A&M University, Hampton University, Howard University, Grambling State University, and Southern University), and interned at firms including A.G. Edwards, Bank of America, Brinker Capital, Charles Schwab & Co., and Goldman Sachs, among others.
Each firm can develop its own set of experiences for the interns, though in each case, the students rotated through a variety of positions in such areas as investment management, due diligence, performance reporting, and finance and accounting. “They got to experience all the different operating functions of a financial services or investment management firm,” notes Widger.