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From hard hats to DEI: Jennifer Kaplan’s insights from recruiting and fostering diversity, equity and inclusion at Schonfeld

  • The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Expanding Equity program helps workplaces become more racially equitable places of opportunity. The program supports and inspires actions that advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion among leaders, within companies and within industries. This interview is part of a series highlighting individual leaders’ personal racial equity, diversity and inclusion journeys, and the impacts of those experiences on their careers. 

    Jennifer Kaplan leads campus and diversity recruiting and is co-head of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Schonfeld Strategic Advisors, a financial services firm that places talent at the core of its strategy. In her role, Jennifer champions efforts to attract a diverse and inclusive talent base to the organization, while also working to structure and expand DEI efforts, including Schonfeld’s Employee Resource Groups. Prior to Schonfeld, Jennifer spent 10 years in undergraduate and MBA admissions and nearly 15 years at other financial services firms. She is an active supporter and champion of Management Leaders for Tomorrow, Disability:IN, Toigo, MBA Veterans, National Alliance on Mental Illness and Children of Fallen Patriots.

    Q: What is your background? How did you get involved in DEI? 

    “My background is in chemical engineering which might be as far as possible away from the DEI space, but when I think back to my career, I was one of two women in my chemical engineering classroom. I was the only woman who started in my program after graduation […] and it was a challenging space to be a woman.”

    I fell into this incredible world of higher education, and it was through that world, where I met students from different backgrounds who had never had the same experiences I had. I really just wanted to help them find their way. I worked in college admissions for about 15 years, and it was so rewarding to work with these kids and their parents.”

    “I had been in New York and Wall Street came calling, and I had the opportunity to go to an investment bank and move into the diversity space […] and it was the same experience of helping students find their way onto Wall Street.”

    “But for me, it was about helping the students who knew nothing about Wall Street. It was the students who had never had these experiences before and didn’t have the networks […] to help educate students about these opportunities. […] Every time I meet a student who is now successful—and I think, ‘Wow, I had some little part, tiny little part in that person’s journey’—it’s so rewarding.”

    Q: How do you ensure that DEI is embedded in all aspects of Schonfeld? 

    “If DEI is just a part of your business and who you are, then it’s not affected by any of the volatility. It’s not affected by ups and downs. It’s just part of the business. And there are a number of ways in which we can ensure that DEI is treated the same way as any other business unit.

    “We make sure that DEI is talked about in every town hall […] We meet with our department heads every quarter and we talk to them about DEI. […] We bring data to DEI. […] And we speak in the same languages as our business speaks. We have business and action plans for DEI […] the same way a business unit might come to the table and meet with our senior leadership around the strategy and the goals, and the action items for the year, we’re doing the same thing with DEI.”

    “It should be part of everything that we do as a business because DEI touches everything we do as a business […] and so treating it that way makes it an important factor, and not just an add-on.”

    Q: Why is it important to you to attract diverse talent to Schonfeld? 

    “Diversity recruiting is a passion of mine, but it’s so important for us as a business, and just for the world. We want to make sure we’re reflecting the community around us. We work in a diverse community. […] It’s not optional. It’s an expectation that there’s going to be diverse employees. […] We want to reflect those around us, […] the communities that we serve, the communities where we work and our client base.”

    You’re not going to have a diverse employee group if you don’t have a diverse group of applicants and candidates. You have to have a really broad pool […] and a diverse group of candidates. And that means looking all over at some of the more traditional sources, but also lots of nontraditional sources. And we’re really fortunate now, in this day and age of having lots of opportunities to interact virtually, where you can really find talent that maybe you wouldn’t have found before.”

    “We spend a lot of time thinking about education. Not everyone knows about the asset management industry, particularly candidates who might be from underrepresented backgrounds. […] How do we get out in front of young people and talk to them about careers that might be wonderful and interesting for them that they’ve never thought about? We do educational sessions for first- and second-year students at schools. […] We partner with a number of nonprofits and national organizations that are trying to educate and broaden where people think about employment.”

    Q:  What characteristics does a successful DEI leader have? 

    “I think one of the reasons that I’ve been able to have incredible opportunities and be successful is that I’ve built this network of peers within the DEI space. And it’s the relationships that I really cherish and use when I need information, or I have to understand if we’re on the right path.”

    It’s not just me having an anecdote, it’s direct peer information, and that’s really powerful especially when it’s sometimes hard to get direct information out of other sources. […] Having this group of people to go to and bounce ideas off of […] is really crucial, and it’s what’s helped me really be successful, continue to grow and continue to learn within this space.”

    Q: What is your advice to new DEI practitioners?

    “If you’re just starting out in this DEI space, I think you can feel free to reach out to anyone through LinkedIn, through partnerships, through organizations, most of us are so willing to help. We want to see more people follow in our footsteps and […] I would spend hours talking to people about what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen.”

    We need new people in this field because you bring new knowledge. […] So I’d say reach out to peopleask their experiences. […] Say, ‘I’m new,’ and, ‘what did you do when you were new to this world?’ and ‘how did you get started,’ and ‘how did you stay motivated’ and ‘how do you continue to stay motivated?’ […] We need people who are going to energize this space–particularly within this generation who understand […] what it’s like growing up in this new world.”

    Jennifer’s Recommended Resources


    • Say the Right Thing: How to Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice by Kenji Yoshino and David Glasgow
    • The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. DuBois
    • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
    • Night by Elie Wiesel