Former BlackRock employees allege racial and sexual harassment in letter to Larry Fink

The asset management giant also faces a separate lawsuit alleging racial discrimination

Two former BlackRock analysts have claimed they experienced sexual, religious and racial harassment while employed at the asset management giant’s New York office, according to an open letter to company CEO Larry Fink published yesterday.  

Essma Bengabsia and Mugi Nguyai, who are of Arab and Kenyan descent, respectively, said that senior managers and other employees at the firm routinely made sexual and racist comments, in addition to mocking their religious beliefs. Both whistleblowers have given accounts of the alleged incidents to back up their allegations.

According to the letter, Bengabsia and Nguyai were “labelled as difficult, aggressive, or too outspoken to manage” when they lodged complaints over the alleged harassment with BlackRock’s human resources departments. Nguyai claims he was fired by the firm ahead of an agreed-upon resignation date “in retaliation” for reporting the incidents.

The letter also accuses BlackRock of systematically driving out black employees who had voiced concerns over their experiences at the company. It draws upon the testimony of unnamed employees at BlackRock’s London and San Francisco office, who, it alleges, corroborate the grievances. The letter also makes claims about a “lack of opportunities for progression, terrible compensation compared to their non-black equivalents, and being type-cast as difficult for voicing themselves”.

Nguyai is the second whistleblower to accuse BlackRock of having a culture that is unsupportive to black and minority employees. Earlier this month, Bengabsia launched a petition calling for an independent investigation into harassment and discrimination allegations, after describing her alleged experiences at the firm.

The online petition has gathered close to 9,000 signatures since it was launched.

BlackRock is also facing a lawsuit from Brittanie McGee, a black former employee who similarly claims she was “forced out” after complaining that white, male employees were given more desirable assignments, higher pay and promotions compared to black staffers.

In response to the latest allegations, BlackRock has circulated an internal memo seen by RI, which commits to launching a “broader DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] strategy” in early March, and an expansion of “manager and employee training on behavior, conduct and respect”.

“While we disagree with the portrayal of our firm in today’s blog post, we must acknowledge that there are former and current employees who have not experienced the culture that we aspire to at BlackRock. Moments like these underscore the urgency of our broader ambitions on diversity, equity and inclusion. We know we have much work to do in building a culture of belonging,” the memo said.

The company previously issued statements saying that it had investigated the claims made by Bengabsia and McGee and had found them to be without merit.

Last year, BlackRock’s CEO, Larry Fink, spoke out along with other Wall Street executives to denounce racism after the death of George Floyd at the hands of US police: “No organization is immune from the challenges posed by racial bias. As a firm committed to racial equality, we must also consider where racial disparity exists in our own organizations and not tolerate our shortcomings,” he said at the time.

The asset manager has also pledged to double the number of black representation among senior leadership. Currently, only 3% of senior executives – those at Director level and above – identify as black.

Separately, fixed-income powerhouse PIMCO is being sued in California by a former employee who alleges she was demoted after rejecting sexual advances from the former Chair of PIMCO funds, Bret Harris, and former Executive Vice President and Global Head of Corporate Communications, Daniel Tarman. Two other women have also joined the suit, claiming separate incidents of harassment and discrimination.