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Prepared Remarks by Director Richard Cordray at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

Thank you for inviting me today.  It is an honor to be here and to continue our collaborative relationship.  You have been important supporters of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and it is great to work with the outstanding leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.  So on behalf of everyone at the Bureau, and all the millions of American consumers that we are working to protect, again we thank you for all your steadfast support, help, and advice.

Among the new provisions of the financial reform law is one that directs each of the federal financial regulators to establish Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion.  At the Consumer Bureau, we rejoice in this responsibility and we embrace the terms of this mandate.

We deeply believe in equal opportunity and fairness.  At the core of our mission is the firm principle that every one of us deserves to be treated fairly in the financial marketplace, without regard to race, creed, or color, or any of the other categories that some people try to use to divide Americans one from another.  In our society, after all, people from all walks of life have the basic responsibility to manage their own economic affairs, and they do so by using consumer financial products and services.  Products like mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and auto loans.  These kinds of products touch people in every part of this country – from the East Coast to the West Coast, whether rural, urban, or suburban.  They cross racial and socio-economic boundaries.  Because so many Americans use these products, it is integral to our work to do our very best to understand and appreciate the broad diversity of American consumers.

And we hold to the same fundamental principle within our own ranks.  We believe that embracing, celebrating, and respecting our differences only strengthens any human organization.  So from our inception just over a year ago, we have worked to build diversity and inclusion into the fabric of our agency, having grown rapidly to nearly 1,000 people.  We have sought out and hired highly qualified people with a wide mix of backgrounds.  Our inclusiveness has improved our work and improved our team, at every level.

Human beings have known since at least the Bronze Age that adding carbon to iron creates steel.  In the years since, scientists have learned that adding the metal chromium further increases hardness, and that adding the metal vanadium makes the steel more durable.  So too with each of us.  At the Consumer Bureau our diversity is a source of strength.  It is an essential quality for us to be able to understand people’s struggles and frustrations, to overcome the obstacles in our path, and to remain persistent and determined in pursuit of our fundamental objectives:  to stand on the side of consumers and see that they are treated fairly in the financial marketplace.

In building our new Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, which we know as the OMWI, we saw the same opportunity we had seen at the outset of the Consumer Bureau itself.  Just as we were given the chance to build a brand-new agency, here too we have the occasion to build a model office not bound by any lingering limitations from the past.  So we are working with our fellow regulators to create and compile best practices for ourselves and for those in the financial services industry.

In January, at the same time that President Obama appointed me to serve as the first Director of the Consumer Bureau, we began standing up the OMWI.  In April, we were fortunate to bring on Stuart Ishimaru to lead our OMWI.  Stuart’s extensive work promoting diversity in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – and frankly throughout his life – makes him the perfect person for the job.  He has worked on behalf of underserved communities, and he brings with him decades of experience in overseeing federal policies geared toward fostering difference in the workplace and creating opportunities for women and minorities.

Under Stuart’s leadership, we are reaching out to historically black colleges and universities to recruit new talent.  Our diversity in hiring has been very good so far, though we feel we have much more good work ahead of us.  The OMWI is also working with our procurement staff to develop standards to increase contracting opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses.  While our procurement footprint is relatively small compared with our fellow agencies, we are excited about the chance to develop innovative programs to bring new minority and women vendors into the Consumer Bureau.

So what is some of that work which lies ahead of us?  First, our Office of Minority and Women Inclusion will develop standards for equal employment opportunity and standards for the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the workforce and senior management of the agency.  While it is important to bring a diverse group of people into the Bureau, it is perhaps even more important to create an environment to get them to stay, grow, and prosper.  Creating an inclusive environment not only benefits women and people of color, it creates a better and more effective workplace for all of our employees.  It creates an atmosphere where people can feel comfortable speaking up with all the authenticity of different viewpoints and different life experiences.  It makes our deliberations fuller and more complete; it keeps us from missing things that matter; and it mixes our talents and thinking together to create a better and richer synthesis.

Second, we will advance further on the path toward equal opportunity and broader access to the contracting opportunities made available by the Bureau.  It is often the course of least resistance to reach back for the same list of vendors you have used before.  Change means a fair amount of hard work, but you will do that work if you believe in the principles that animate it.  Consistent outreach and aggressive recruiting of new candidates to compete for work is essential if we are going to make the kind of progress that Congress expects us to make here.

Third, and very importantly, Congress has directed that the OMWI will work to create standards to assess diversity at the financial institutions that the Consumer Bureau regulates.  Take a moment to grasp how this aspect of our task greatly broadens our opportunity.  The financial realm encompasses trillions of dollars of assets and employs more than five million people in the United States.  To the extent that we can encourage and influence a broadening of equal opportunity in this powerful and dynamic sector of the American economy, we will quite possibly make breakthroughs for the principles of diversity and inclusion that will be profound and lasting.  Just as we are convinced that having a mix of employee backgrounds and experiences is good for our work at the Consumer Bureau, we likewise are convinced that the same is true for financial institutions themselves.  Like us, they serve the broad consumer public of our country.  And like us, they will better understand the changing demographics and needs of their customer base if their own workforce is reflective of our changing society.

As a new agency, we have the rare advantage of not being wedded to the old ways, and thus of being able to forge our own path.  I happen to believe that we are at a moment of time in this country where business leaders, both in the financial industry and elsewhere, are able to grasp the importance of the outlook that I have just described.  For a long time, the financial services industry did not traditionally reflect all its potential customers.  But it feels to me like this sector is ripe for change and is beginning to embrace this change.  If we are willing to step forward right now and make a persuasive case for diversity and inclusion, then I believe we will find that we ware casting our bread upon the waters at a propitious time and this important effort will be crowned with success.  Put bluntly, there is a great business opportunity here for a sizable industry, and I am confident that good business leaders will be prepared to seize that opportunity.

I want to close by painting a picture and then by making a request.  My story harks back to an image we are all familiar with, which is often used to explain the assimilation of groups in our society:  the image of the melting pot.  The account conjured up by this image consists of different people trying hard to fit into a particular uniform mold, trying to be just like one another, as though we all were put into a giant blender that obliterated our differences into a single common consistency. In contrast to that image, let me borrow another one from a friend of mine in Cleveland, Ohio whom some of you may know, the Reverend Marvin McMickle.  I have heard him on several occasions present a different image than the melting pot, one that is truer to our discussion here of diversity and inclusion:  the image of a salad bowl.

As he described it, you would not want to put the entire salad through a blender and come away with one undifferentiated mass.  Everything that is good about it would be lost in extinguishing the different ingredients, and frankly, nobody would like it very much.  Instead, you want to maintain a blend of different tastes and textures and colors:  a good amount of lettuce, maybe some tomatoes, a carrot, perhaps an onion, maybe even a radish (I distinctly remember the Reverend mentioning radishes, though they are not a particular favorite of mine).  Because out of that mixture comes something much more special and desirable, something that is delicious and memorable.  And the same is true of the world we live in.  By adding together our distinct elements, but by retaining and respecting and valuing our differences, we sum up in the end to a greater and a more capacious whole.

Now, finally, we have a request for you:  We ask you to help us find more of that productive difference to aid us in our work.  If you know someone who would be an asset to the Consumer Bureau, please let us know.  We are doing exciting work, difference-making work for Americans who urgently need our help and support.  We are hiring tremendous talent and we are unabashedly greedy for more.  And if you know minority- and women-owned businesses that should be competing for contractual work with the Bureau, let us know that as well.

Again, we thank you so much for the careful work you have done and the strong support you have given for this new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Through our embrace of diversity and inclusion, with determination and steadfast commitment, we will help create a consumer financial marketplace that is fair, transparent, and accountable.  We want you to see the difference we are making and we want you to be proud of what you have done.  And so that goal is highly motivational to all of us.