Step Beyond Awareness and Make Diversity a Pillar of Your Business

Ryan Shanks June 2, 2020

Talking about diversity in financial services isn't anything new. Whether we're focusing on gender, race, socioeconomic backgrounds - diversity has been the gorilla in the room for the last decade publicly, and since the beginning of the industry for those who've experienced discrimination.

In recent years, trade media headlines have made a concerted effort to take a look behind the curtain and talk about the real side of gender disparity. Brave women and men who've climbed their way to the top despite the industry's unforgiving statistics, have grabbed our shoulders and shaken us out of ignorance with their powerful op-eds and heartfelt presentations at industry conferences.

But here's where the industry gets tripped up - executive teams know they need to attract more women and people of color to their firm, and they fully understand the positive business implications of doing so. But then, they ask themselves: where do we start?

This question of where do we start, I believe, is one of the reasons we're seeing a whole lot of "talking," and not as much "doing." Raising awareness is an important first step, but where do the firms take it from there?

Putting Your Recruitment Methods Where Your Mouth Is

As an advisor recruiting specialist, firms usually come to me to accomplish one thing: hire the right people. So, let's shift that advice to be more specific: if firms want to encourage diversity within their teams and be more inclusive overall, what do they need to do?

Re-think Your Value

When you sit down in a sales pitch and talk about your firm, what is the first thing you focus on? Is it your size, brand recognition or growth trajectory? If so, you're probably not going to get anywhere with the folks you're looking to hire.

As an advisory firm, your only true differentiator is what you offer your advisors, not the other way around. Advisors are our industry's greatest asset - and as such, it's important to place most of your focus on what you can do to help them succeed.

If you want to create a more diverse workplace, put your money where your mouth is and make intentional steps to help women and people of color succeed. Do you have a strictly enforced company-wide sexual harassment and non-discrimination policy? Does your team hold town halls or open discussions about such policies, wherein male advocates can lead by example? Do you vet your strategic partners to make sure they have the same?

If your firm already has these initiatives in place, be public about it. Let these advisors know that you can offer a safe work environment for them, one that fosters growth and opportunity. This is part of your value as a firm, and this is what you need to lead with.

Own Up to Your Biases

We're all human, and part of being human is that we're engrained with subconscious biases. I believe that the firms that own up to those biases are the ones who can make actionable steps to erase them.

So, what is one way to erase gender and racial biases? Turn to the only thing without it: technology.

Using recruitment platforms and technology as a way to neutralize the playing field is one way that executive teams can ensure they're hiring based on experience, first. It also enables them to reach corners of the marketplace they otherwise wouldn't have - which, in itself, is another step towards inclusion.

Get Used to Being Uncomfortable

As a white male in a white male dominated industry, I am the first to admit that sometimes, talking about diversity is not always the most comfortable. But what I say to that is: too bad, it's time to get uncomfortable.

Shiny initiatives are great for headlines and press releases, but as male allies to women and people of color in our industry, we have a bigger responsibility. We need to take our privilege and bring everyone else along - be the person who's doing something, not just talking about it. Here are some ways you can take action:

Align with organizations that are paving the way - then, ask what you can do to help.

There are amazing organizations in our industry that are doing important things to help tilt the diversity scales in the right direction. Females and Finance, for example, is an interactive online community comprised of 2,000+ women and male allies who come together to bring conversation and candor to industry recruitment, training, advancement, and retention.

When you find these organizations, ask them: What can I do for you? Offer your resources, experience and mentorship capabilities to help them succeed. Because in the end, we're all better together.

Be present during industry conversations about diversity.

If you're attending a conference and there is a breakout session focused on female advisors, chances are, the room will be mostly filled with female advisors - we need to change this. Because those insights are crucial for the men in our industry to hear.

Attend the sessions. Ask questions. Once again, learn what you can do to help.

Connect with the next generation - and then be there for them every step of the way.

Countless studies have shown that the next generation of financial advisors care more than ever about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. These young minds will be (and already are) critical to shaping the future of our industry. But we need to do more than lecture at them about how great of a career path financial services is. We need to show them by giving them all of the opportunities available once they get here.

I encourage firms to carve out the time and other resources necessary to bridge the generational gap - and then make those initiatives part of your firm's value propositions so advisors you want to hire can get on board, as well.

The time to help women and minorities in our industry to lean in, is now. In order to recruit a diverse team of experienced advisors, consider what you're actually doing at the firm level to instill change and make your environment inclusive. And then scream it from the rooftops - because everyone deserves to succeed in a career they love.