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Meaningful Mentorship Matters: Caribbean at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

I've always wanted a mentor. I don't particularly think I need one, but the idea seems nice - someone to look up to, to guide me, to be footsteps in the sand I can follow. I've never had a real mentor, though.

When I interned at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York City in the summer of 2022, I was assigned a mentor through the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Business Resource Group (BRG) at the firm, which I had signed up for when applying for the job.

Sound funny yet?

If you've read my previous blog posts, you'd know that I identify as Jamaican-Chinese, not Asian-American, nor a Pacific Islander.

Okay, good. Stage set. Story time.

In the first week of my internship, the first week of June 2022, we had orientation with all the other Asset & Wealth Management interns in Brooklyn. One of the main points that the firm's leadership drove home was that the internship was a huge opportunity to network and meet people to have conversations about the world of finance and the various careers that exist at JPMorgan. Additionally, a big plus about the firm that was emphasized (that I actually experienced first-hand) is that it's "administratively horizontal", in the sense that while there is an established administrative hierarchy, in terms of positions like Executive Directors to Vice Presidents and all that jazz, it's easy to reach out and have conversations with higher ranking employees because nobody holds themselves on a pedestal above you.

On the Friday of my first week with the firm, I received an email from an executive director inviting me to grab a coffee or zoom to get to know each other better. When I got the email, my heart jumped with excitement. "Oh shit, they weren't kidding!"

I asked around a few other interns in my program who I had met whether they had also received emails from executive directors or higher ranking employees inviting them to have a coffee chat to see whether maybe it was a general part of the internship agenda. Nothing. Nobody else I asked had received an invitation like that, and so honestly, despite how legit the email seemed with official company logos and disclaimers and all, I began to get suspicious about the email. "Why me? Is this a scam? Should I be meeting with this person? Who is this?"

After thinking about it, I decided to go ahead and reply to the email, introducing myself and offering a few times that I would be available to meet in person. What harm could it be to schedule a time?

After the usual email back and forth, we ended up scheduling a time and a place to meet in one of JPMorgan's skyscraper buildings in Midtown... but I still had no idea why we were meeting. I didn't really have it in me to ask the first executive director I met at the firm why they wanted to talk to me.

Fast forward, I met this executive director for coffee on the second Friday of the internship and she introduced herself to me as my assigned mentor through the Asian American & Pacific Islanders Business Resource Group. She identifies as Indian-American, and she shared with me her experiences as someone with South Asian heritage being successful at a big financial firm like JPMorgan. Throughout the internship, she was an great point of connection for me, and a great resource to meet other firm execs and to learn about the firm culture. She really was one of the most refined and poised people that I've met and set a great example of success for a South Asian person at the firm.

However, I suppose you see the disconnect.

The point of being assigned a mentor through a diversity group at the firm is to connect with someone who has similar experiences and background to you to make you feel a sense of community. But while, yes, I'm Asian, my experiences are Caribbean. My background is not continentally Asian. Especially not Indian. The attempt to make me feel a sense of community had failed. In fact, after that encounter, I ended up feeling even more isolated as a Jamaican-Chinese person in the firm because there was no established space for Caribbean people.

If you know me though, you know 2 things: 1. I'll always advocate for Caribbean people in the diaspora, and 2. I'm a go-getter.

And so I wasn't satisfied.

I got in touch with the Private Bank's Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion and spoke to her about my idea to start a Caribbean BRG at JPMorgan. She put me in touch with someone in the Los Angeles office who she knew was Jamaican, and turns out he actually went to my high school in Jamaica (THE Campion College for those who don't know) so we connected really easily through having that shared background. He then put me in touch with a few other Caribbean people in the Miami office, the Delaware office and the Brooklyn offices respectively. And with each Zoom call, I pitched my idea for a Caribbean BRG and garnered support around the firm, across the Private Bank, Corporate & Investment Bank and Commercial Bank and across the United States. I'd ask every person I met to give me the name of another Caribbean person that they knew at the firm, and I'd reach out and extend the network. I created a spreadsheet with contact information and began to do the grunt work of laying the foundation of the BRG. I began to feel a sense of community, and the sense of isolation was gone. I even met a Jamaican-Chinese managing director in Miami who went to Cornell. That was cool.

Through this network that I created at the firm, I met Caribbean people who had been at the firm for over 30 years who were able to provide advice on how to navigate the firm as a Jamaican, and how they'd experienced it as people from small island nations. That was mentorship. That was meaningful mentorship. I felt supported, encouraged and inspired to continue on at the firm because of the people who went before me with a similar background to me.

And that's one of the main reasons why I'm returning. One of the main reasons why I'm excited to go back to JPMorgan after I graduate. To build a community. For me and for the other Caribbean people who come after me. So that they don't have to experience the disconnect that I felt when I first got there. So that they can experience meaningful mentorship.

The idea behind the firm's BRGs for diversity and inclusion and community building is sound. It works. But without the inclusion of a space for Caribbean people, their work of diversity and inclusion is incomplete. Meaningful mentorship matters, because you feel someone with a genuine interest in seeing you succeed. Someone who has been in your shoes and knows how to navigate the space you're in. It's important, because at a big firm like JPMorgan, sometimes all you really need is one person in your corner to motivate you to achieving what you're capable of.

It's important because we all need support in some way, shape or form, and sometimes all someone needs to succeed is to know that there's someone out there that truly believes in them.

Until next Sunday,

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