A 2020 McKinsey & Company Report found that the number of people of color in financial services drops 75% from entry-level positions to C-suite leadership. This means the number of people of color employed at the entry-level among U.S. financial services firms is disproportionate to the number of people of color employed at the C-suite level, where nine out of 10 people are white.
To help address the issue of C-suite representation, the global financial services firm Jane Street Capital (Jane Street) announced a $10 million gift to Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), a nonprofit which Robert F. Smith serves as Chairman. As part of the gift, Jane Street expanded their FOCUS program to offer professional opportunities for up to 150 college students at participating historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) who were interested in careers in technology and finance. The program this year is a two-day intensive where undergraduates can take part in activities that are structured to provide a broad overview of the financial work at Jane Street, including “trading, software engineering and business development,” according to the FOCUS program website.
The $10 million gift will also support SFI’s Income Contingent Agreements (ICAs), an alternative financial mechanism used to allow Black students pursuing STEM degrees at HBCUs to graduate without excessive student loan debt. Students utilizing ICAs can attend university at a lower cost than traditional parent plus or private loans and repayment is tied directly to a student’s income.
“The Student Freedom Initiative is grateful for this gift as it is a major investment in Black STEM students,” Smith said of Jane Street’s contribution. “This gift is a vote of confidence not just in our program at the Student Freedom Initiative, but also in the potential these young students carry to change the face of STEM and make their mark on our communities. We are hopeful this gift will not only inspire students to pursue a STEM education, but also help equip them with the tools they need to start their careers.”
Robert F. Smith’s Work To Increase Black Representation in STEM
Student Freedom Initiative is a student-centered single-purpose nonprofit dedicated to relieving students of color from the burden of loan debt after college. The program was kicked off one year ago this fall with a $50 million contribution from Fund II Foundation, a nonprofit granting organization. Smith, the founding director and President of the group, then matched the contribution in October 2020. Since its creation, SFI has also received support from major U.S. companies, including a $1 million donation from The Walmart Foundation as part of a plan to donate $100 million over five years.
According to the United Negro College Fund, HBCUs produce a quarter of Black STEM graduates nationwide. SFI provides critical support to students at 29 participating HBCUs. It aims to help Black students gain the skills and confidence needed to make successful personal and professional decisions. In addition to funding alternatives, the organization offers internship opportunities, tutoring, mentoring and other student support resources, geared to help HBCU students navigate professional pathways.
SFI has served hundreds of juniors and seniors since its launch in the fall 2020, and Smith hopes to scale the program to support thousands of students each year across participating colleges. “The [Student Freedom] Initiative is purposefully built to redress historic economic and social inequities and to offer a sustainable, scalable platform to invest in the education of future Black leaders.” Smith in a 2020 statement at the start of the program.
Read more about Smith’s efforts to support Black students interested in STEM.