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A Goldman Sachs Exec On What Engineering Can Teach Us About Diversity At Work

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Kerone Vatel is managing director, global co-head of operational risk supervision at Goldman Sachs. Images by Tony Calianese.

This post is part of Jopwell’s “From The Desk Of” series featuring the leading voices in corporate America sharing their thoughts, insights, and experiences around building more diverse and inclusive workforces.

When I studied chemical engineering at MIT, our professors let us bring whatever materials we wanted into exams: textbooks, past exams, programmable calculators… anything but another person to give us the answers. At first, my classmates and I thought that all of those tools would make tests easier. But, we quickly learned that, unless you have the skills to truly understand the principle at work, those resources are no help at all.

This is how engineers are trained to think. When confronted with a problem, our brains break it down into its elemental components. We ask, “What have we seen and done before? What do we need? Who would know more about this than we do?” As we analyze and test data, our understanding that there are a range of answers to most questions helps us choose the best path forward.

Today, I lead the Operational Risk Supervision department at Goldman Sachs, where we measure and advise on the management of operational risk across the firm. Part of that includes allocating risk capital to align with risk taking activities, as well as enforcing our risk appetite.

In both my department and the company as a whole, there is a growing dedication to creating systems that make everything we do better. Everyone is focused on innovation – an idea that applies not just to our investment strategies, but also to the way we build our teams. We are hiring more engineers than ever before and the frameworks that they bring help to impact people’s effectiveness in work and life. Here is what engineering our work environment entails.

Kerone Vatel 2

1. Balancing our strengths and perspectives.

We truly believe that, in order to provide the best product to our clients, we need teams that both work together and work from different vantage points. That's a matter of diversity, and it includes far more than race, ethnicity, or gender. It's also about perspective. We strive to acknowledge that our people's experiences and identities are a part of the value they bring to the firm.

2. Embracing diversity.

As a manager, I want to empower my team to bring their whole selves to work, including each salient part of their identities. When we are doing something new, I have the tools to be deliberate about putting together a group of people who bring different skills to the boardroom. Sometimes I get complaints. For example, putting someone who likes to think pragmatically with a big idea generator can lead to tension. But, in time, it builds to something great.

It's not always seamless, but, instead of being sensitive to our differences to the point that we go haywire, it's important that we say, "let's try to figure this out." I attempt to get team members to connect outside of the project - even if it's just 10 minutes instead of five at the top of a conference call to allow time for small talk. You need that opportunity to diffuse.

3. Building community and consensus.

In addition to my day job, I also co-chair the Finance and Risk Divisions Black Network, a space where colleagues come together to build community and develop a deeper sense of belonging. My leadership experience at Goldman Sachs, however, has not been exclusively within the Black Network. Building inclusive spaces is about connecting with those who share your most salient identity and letting others know that you are here to advocate and celebrate their community.

Goldman Sachs does a great job of creating spaces that provide opportunities to celebrate all of our employees. Our affinity networks, open to all employees, are really leading the drive here. For example, last month we had a panel discussion with our Disabilities Interest Forum, LGBT Network, and Veterans Network to discuss intersectionality, authenticity and identities. There is no question that when you empower employees to be themselves, it frees a ton of brain space to focus on being excellent at their jobs.

At its core, leadership is about building consensus about what you and your team are driving toward and working to build that excitement and momentum throughout the firm. I always liked the way the African proverb says it: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Goldman Sachs is a Jopwell partner company.

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