By Melissa J. Anderson

Edie Hunt, Chief Diversity Officer and Advising Director at Goldman Sachs, has spent the majority of her career at the forefront of corporate diversity, initiating powerful ideas like Goldman Sachs’ Returnship, its women’s network, and its practice of awarding fellowships to diverse rising stars. “I say this with rose colored glasses,” Hunt began, “but I wait for the day when we don’t need an Office of Diversity and Inclusion – because everyone gets it.”

She predicts that day when diversity offices are no longer needed is still 15 to 20 years in the future, but says she’s pleased with the current progress of the field.

“I retired as a partner at the end of last year – I continue as an advising director, which is an arrangement many retired partners have here. I’m responsible for carrying forward the culture of the firm, and I’m still the Chief Diversity Officer.”

Hunt says she thinks the next phase of D&I is about bringing everyone into the diversity discussion.

“I think the next idea in diversity will be the concept of diversity being for everyone,” she said. “We had a watershed moment in 2010 during our Americas Diversity Week, which was that diversity is not about having events for women, Asians, LGBT employees, or any specific group. But that the events were for everyone in the firm to learn about the unique attributes of everyone else in the firm.”

She explained, “We have celebrations and events throughout the year. Whereas, five years ago at a women’s history month event, we’d have 95% women, now I’d say there’s at least 30% men. That is really where we want diversity to be heading.”

Hunt is also pleased to see an increase in the number of line managers taking the issue seriously. “I think the layer of people who really don’t live and breathe diversity initiatives is becoming thinner and thinner.”

Sharing Best Practices

“I think the financial services industry is among the more progressive industries when it comes to diversity initiatives. Financial services companies know they’re only as good as their people.”

She is particularly proud of Goldman’s work to increase the number of women returning to the industry after taking time out. “One initiative that I think is very important and has a lot of legs is our Returnship program,” Hunt said. “We were seeing that when women and some men left the workforce, it was hard to get back in.”

She continued, “We had years and years of success with our summer interns, and we thought why not do an internship for a different population?”

The Returnship program gives people who have left work for a period of time – for example, to care for young children – a chance to reenter the workforce. The program lasts eight to ten weeks, and participants can use it as a “reentry vehicle,” Hunt explained. “I’m very proud to say that 50% of people who participate in the Returnship return to the firm full time, and those who don’t find a position at the firm certainly had a valuable credentialing experience.”

After kicking off in New York, the program has been successfully introduced in Hong Kong and London, and it’s the inspiration for other programs as well. “It’s a good formula for us to increase the diversity of lateral hiring, and we’re using it as a model for our recent emphasis on serving returning veterans.”

In addition to the Veteran Internship Program (VIP) which is modeled on the Returnship program, Goldman Sachs also recently launched its Veterans Network, which provides firmwide leadership on veterans’ affairs. The Network helps the firm recruit talented troops who are transitioning to the civilian workforce.

“We just finished up our first VIP, which was a tremendous success,” Hunt said, adding that she hopes other financial companies will use the program as a model for their own veterans’ initiatives. “Unlike most things in this industry, where it is highly competitive and we’re eager to beat the next firm to the punch, what I think is unique to diversity is the willingness to share best practices.”

She continued, “I think the diversity of the industry is expanding, which is good for diversity initiatives more broadly.”