While I am not an expert on diversity and inclusion or an authority on what it will take to achieve greater diversity and inclusion within our profession, I have had many discussions on the topic during my 30-year career, and studied some business cases and surveys. I’ve never had to implement or lead a D&I strategic initiative to test my ideas, though, I’m offering my thoughts based on what I’ve observed in the hope that it might help move us from talking about diversity and inclusion, to doing it.
In the words of Amelia Earhart: “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”
It’s important first to acknowledge and recognized the many individuals within our profession who have acknowledged the need for greater diversity within the profession and have worked tirelessly to affect change. However, I think they would also agree that there is still work to do, and it will take even greater courage to move forward.
William A. Galston, of the Brookings Institution, was recently quoted as saying, “There’s a reason why ‘Profiles in Courage’ is a very short book. Courage is not the norm. It’s the exception.”
Regardless of one’s politics, his statement applies to the fact that we’ve had some courageous folks working to increase diversity and inclusion in our profession, but we need more people to join to break through the status quo.
In a 2018 survey from the CFP Board’s Center for Financial Planning, “Removing Barriers to Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Financial Planning Profession,” it noted clients’ implicit bias as one of the factors contributing to the status quo. Specifically, the survey highlighted that clients had a preference for working with planners who had a similar background as them, despite there being no difference in skill sets between ethnicities. I get it. In a highly competitive environment, fear of losing a client is real, particularly for a smaller firm. Having courage is acting on a principle that could result in losing clients who might not share the same principle.
There are three overriding things firms can do. First, adopt diversity and inclusion as a core principle versus a marketing and P.R. strategy. Core principles are like an iceberg. What the world sees is only the tip of something much deeper than photos and statements on a website.
Second, have a strategy in place that addresses how the firm plans to include the team, address internal and external pushback, be held accountable, and measure success. When implementing core principles, leave nothing to chance. As the country’s demographic shifts take place, clients will pay less attention to D&I statements and more to what firms are doing to live their D&I core principle.
Finally, recognize that once the new core principle is adopted, it will take time and require constant attention. The U.S. Armed Forces serve as an example.
On June 12, 1948, President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act (“The Act”) into law. The Act allowed women to serve as full, permanent members of all military branches. A little over a month later, on July 26, he issued Executive Order 9918, ending segregation in the armed forces. The next day, the New York Times headlines read, “Truman Orders End of Bias in Forces and Federal Jobs.” It’s 71 years later, and the efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive environment within the armed services continue. The point is not to suggest 70 years as a timeframe, but to illustrate that core principles should be enduring and not bound by artificial deadlines.
In closing, as our profession celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, we are in a better place than in 1969 and an even better place than in 1948. It’s because of people who were willing to take a courageous stand and act.
Yes, there is still a lot of work to do, and it won’t be easy. Implementing diversity and inclusion is a lot harder than talking about it. However, I also believe that it is the right thing to do. We just have to have the courage to do it.
Frank Paré is founder and president of PF Wealth Management Group and was the Financial Planning Association’s chairman in 2019 and president in 2018.