Ready to act on diversity, equity and inclusion? First, take a self-exam

Trader Talk

In the wake of much-needed attention on diversity, equity and inclusion, here’s a universal recommendation for advisors and clients alike: Don’t get ahead of yourself.

As financial planners, we follow these steps with clients: exploratory conversations, data gathering, analysis, recommendations, plan delivery, implementation and monitoring. As a strategy consultant for wealth management firms, I find the same steps critical for advancing DEI.

Amazingly, wealth managers and advisory practices often disregard all planning steps except for one when it comes to DEI: implementation. They pursue a full court press on recruiting and training with no regard to the foundational planning trajectory.

Instead, the decision to act for change in DEI should start with the “Why” to garner buy-in from all stakeholders. Answering the “Why” provides a framework and a clarion call for revisiting when the team needs a boost to carry on this essential but difficult work. As a leader, your assignment revolves around getting all parties in alignment before implementation by defining the “Why.”

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At the onset of the DEI exploratory conversations, some leaders and team members may remain leery of the impact DEI will have on their future. Others will likely rejoice, believing such actions were long overdue.

Skepticism brews when the “Why” question remains elusive because the firm neglected to paint a clear picture of its current status and its specific plan with respect to DEI. The missing steps leaves business partners, colleagues and other team members feeling constantly bewildered by unknown answers.

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“Self-reflection is not for the faint of heart,” says Lazetta Braxton, co-founder of 2050 Wealth Partners and chair of the board of the Association of African American Financial Advisors.

Ananeya Abebe

Clarity on the “Why” revolves around figuring out exactly where you as a leader and your firm stand regarding DEI. Then the collective “you” (as in you and your firm) can plan where you should be going.

After you’re clear on your DEI strategy, the next step is taking a cultural audit with employee interviews and surveys.

Hearing honest responses from employees provides insight on your firm’s culture. It also allows the team to assess whether the business represents what they desire to be, relative to the mission, vision, values, and view of its future.

Discovering the collective truth about your firm’s culture may be a scary proposition. Self-reflection is not for the faint of heart — both at the individual level and the corporate level. It’s a journey that requires fortitude, transparency, vulnerability and the ability to move forward with purpose and excitement about the future.

Third-party engagement becomes extremely helpful for this type of probing work. It’s the reason why consultants (and therapists) exist — to encourage a firm and individuals to look within and strategize how a firm can be its best self, through assessments and a plan.

For a taste of how revealing such examinations can be, here are some sample questions for you and your team to ponder about your firm’s culture:

  • How would you describe the workplace culture to a friend?
  • What is your vision of diversity and inclusion at your firm?
  • What kinds of experiences have you had in relating with people whose backgrounds are different than your own?
  • How do you work with people to create or foster DEI in the workplace?
  • How much time do you estimate you’ve invested in considering DEI?

For your survey of team members, ask them whether they would agree or disagree with the following statements:

  • I feel like I belong.
  • I can voice a contrary opinion without fear of negative consequences.
  • When I speak up at work, my opinion is valued.
  • Promotion decisions are fair.

If you are unsure of what the collective responses would say about your firm’s culture, engage in scrupulous assessments and reviews before introducing any new candidates, particularly diverse candidates, to your firm.

New employees should not feel as though they were sold a bill of goods, and dedicated employees shouldn’t feel responsible for protecting new hires from the madness. If the firm knows it’s not where it wants to be on DEI, the firm should clearly communicate its standing to prospective employees, giving them a chance to make an informed decision about joining the firm.

As a wealth management leader, challenge yourself to take a step back before you move forward in the pursuit of DEI as a fad instead of as a staple of your firm. #DoingTheWork through an internal assessment of your culture will position your practice well for the increasingly diverse future of wealth management.

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