Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
April 12, 2021

Goldman Sachs’ Co-CIO Marco Argenti on the power of the memo in culture change

It is no secret that diversity remains a challenge in technology roles. Only 30 percent of women who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering are still working in the field 20 years later, according to the Society of Women Engineers. People of color also remain dramatically underrepresented: The Diversity in High Tech report found that Asian Americans represent 11 percent of tech executives and African Americans constitute just two percent of these positions. In the first installment of this Engineering Inclusivity series, I spoke with Marco Argenti, co-CIO of Goldman Sachs, about how he and the bank’s leadership team are working to build a more inclusive culture and therefore sustainably improve outcomes in this area.

Present less, read more

Understanding the barriers to inclusion is a key step in improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) outcomes. Argenti himself empathizes with one point of friction as a non-native English speaker: “To feel included, you have to have the ability to have your ideas heard. That has relied on your presentation skills and confidence, which can put certain groups — from introverts to those for whom English is a second language — at a disadvantage,” he said. “As a non-native speaker, I can empathize with those who for various good reasons feel less confident presenting, yet whose ideas aren’t any less valuable.” In response, he and the leadership team are fostering a “written culture.” Rather than using “shiny PowerPoint presentations” where people are more apt to interrupt and immediately challenge ideas, Argenti asked people to draft memos, forcing them to cogently encode their thoughts, and forcing the audience to silently read at the start of a meeting. “Reading puts people in a less confrontational mindset and more inquisitive mindset,” he said.

Manage your time to reflect your intent, not the status quo

As a leader, your most precious resource is time and how you spend it demonstrates how seriously you take the diversity topic. Argenti, recognizing both that valuable face time with executives can translate into career opportunities, and that the inputs executives receive from team interactions influence their thinking, changed how he manages his workday. His daily calendar is now curated to include meetings with more women and underrepresented minorities than the composition of his direct reporting team would typically enable. “This is something I can do today,” he said. “Interactions come to reflect where you want to be. I personally find it extremely valuable. I’m getting insights and an education I wouldn’t have had otherwise.” He noted the idea has caught on across the executive team at Goldman.

Demonstrate a commitment from the top

Sustainable change requires support and investment from senior leadership. Goldman has adopted a reverse mentorship program that pairs members of the C-suite with Black colleagues from the bank’s ranks. The executives gain from a broadened perspective; the mentors benefit from exposure to Goldman’s top echelons. Goldman Sachs has also implemented a number of practices to help drive a sense of inclusivity, including a “Starting the Dialogue” course as part of its Goldman Sachs University curriculum, in which attendees learn about the personal experiences of colleagues with an array of personal backgrounds. There are also classes to help leaders attract, develop and manage a diverse workforce.

Track diversity metrics like any other business goal

Argenti recommended that other technology leaders look at the entire life cycle of the employee from retention to development for opportunities to bolster DE&I efforts. “Look at promotion rates and compare against ethnic groups and languages,” he advised. If you find that there is a slower pace of promotion among certain groups, work to remove obstacles.

Foster equity via telepresence

Virtual work can present its own challenges (more on overcoming some of those here), but it has helped Goldman Sachs mitigate issues of equality and inclusion related to geographic distance from its headquarters, “200 West.” Prior to the pandemic, executive in-person visits to far-from-HQ locations were limited and often more symbolic than deeply substantive in nature. Now Argenti and his co-CIO, George Lee, take regular “virtual trips” to India, where they engage with the team in the same way they do with colleagues in the U.S. They have also been able to host virtual recruiting events in parts of Africa and elsewhere effectively.

Rebrand engineering

Capturing the attention of talent early in their careers — a critical step in building a more diverse technology workforce — may rely on changing the perception of the field. “It’s definitely not about fixing computers,” said Argenti. “Today engineering is about building solutions for customers — it’s a highly strategic business function. It therefore becomes an attractive career for a wider variety of people.” This elevated and broadened positioning attracts nontraditional candidates from backgrounds in areas such as psychology, mathematics and the creative arts.

Change little things, do so visibly and sustainably for long-term change

At Spencer Stuart, we define organizational culture as the shared assumptions that drive the way organizations think, behave and act. Culture represents the “unwritten rules” for how things really work. These take years to develop and can take years to shift. Argenti and the Goldman team have put in place a number of creative and thoughtful practices to improve diversity and inclusion that can become norms over time. “This is a problem that is not going to be solved by just recruiting,” said Argenti. “This is going to require a shift in strategy and in the culture of the organization.”