A call for “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” was the challenge presented at a recent workshop of the Financial Services Institute’s OneVoice 2022 conference in Dallas.
“Our goal is to create an inclusive climate all over our country,” said Dale Brown, president and CEO of FSI, as he introduced the workshop, “Resetting the Employee Experience: Retaining Top Talent During the Great Resignation.” FSI is the only organization advocating solely on behalf of independent financial advisors and independent financial services firms, its website states.
Brown referred to “DEI,” – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – as the way to broaden the culture of the financial services industry to reflect the country’s actual society.
“We must get more people of color and women into the ranks of financial advisors,” Brown said. FSI is based in Washington, D.C
The workshop was set up in three parts: First the attendees were given some statistical context for a discussion of diversity in the field. Then the audience was exposed to two other areas — the need to appreciate the impact of the coming generational transfer of wealth, and the need to become comfortable with new areas of investing, such as in cryptocurrencies and ESG investments.
That was followed by conversations with two leaders in the area of advancing diversity in the business world: Forest T. Harper Jr., president and CEO of INROADS, Inc., and Trudy Bourgeois, founder and CEO of the Center for Workforce Excellence.
By the Numbers
Brown introduced Christopher J. Perry, president of Broadridge Financial Solutions (and a member of the FSI board, who provided some statistics from a joint study with FSI to illuminate his and Brown’s concern about the profile of the industry:
Perry said 32% of financial advisors are over age 65; 30% are over age 55. That means 62% are over 55, while only 19% are under 45.
He said the industry has to ask itself why it is not attracting younger professionals.
Then there is the gender issue: The industry is 82% male and 18% female, he said.
“But the majority of the workforce is female,” Perry observed.
He said he saw the conference as a “real opportunity” to move forward in the area of diversity, citing other statistics that show the financial services industry has approximately 2% Black, 2% Hispanic and 4% Asian-American representation.
Brown added additional insight into the purpose of the workshop:
The OneVoice 2022 conference, Brown said, is meant to inspire leadership by example, offering workshops to advance the DEI goals he set forth and to encourage collaboration between members of the institute and others in the community — in other words, taking action.
Even though Perry noted the irony of “two white guys” leading the discussion, he said they are “part of the solution” in expanding diversity.
And he added that it is “good business to align with diversity” for what the industry needs to accomplish in the future.
The Next Generation
For example, another part of their message included a call for financial advisors to be aware of the “generational transfer of wealth.” Fifty-five percent of financial advisors offer financial literacy programs to clients – but that means 45% do not, he said.
Financial advisors should be working with the ‘financial literacy of children and grandchildren’ of clients, he urged. If an advisor has no such relationship, there is a good chance that advisor will lose a potential client.
The third element offered by Perry and Brown was for financial advisors to broaden their awareness of both crypto and “ESG” (environmental, social and corporate governance) investing. He said statistics show only 16% of advisors feel comfortable advising around that, despite a 64% increase in interest by potential clients in those areas.
“You can help clients by getting educated” in these areas, they agreed.
The highlight of the workshop, however, took place during conversations with two professionals with track records of making inclusion in business happen:
Forest T. Harper Jr.’s Encore Career
Jeannie Finkel, chief human resources officer for Cetera Financial Group, introduced Forest T. Harper Jr. to workshop attendees for a discussion of his “encore” career as president and CEO of INROADS. It is a nonprofit organization that works globally to connect diverse students with corporate internships, among other programs, from high school through college and beyond. Finkel herself serves on the national board of INROADS, so it was like a talk between two friends.
Harper said he worked for “30 years in corporate America at Pfizer — a great company,” he said. He said he was the first African American in eight positions in his career. In his second career he wanted to “make sure there were no more ‘onlies’ in such positions.”
The Stranger on the Plane
He shared his respect for independent financial advisors by recalling how he met such a professional years before on a plane trip. Having two daughters, he knew he could afford their weddings — but he wasn’t confident about their college expenses. He gradually became invested in 529 plans through the advisor he met and both daughters had their college expenses paid through it. One daughter even had money left over to begin Harper’s grandson’s college savings. The stranger on the plane has been Harper’s advisor for years since, he added.
When talking about INROADS, where he has devoted 11 years, Harper is passionate about the program. “INROADS is a ministry for me,” he said.
The program was founded many years ago, Harper noted, by a “stately white gentleman” — a 1944 graduate of Princeton University and a Navy pilot who “did not like what he saw” in the lack of diversity in the business world. Frank C. Carr quit his executive-level job to work nights and devote his days to planting the seeds for the organization in Chicago, according to the INROADS website.
INROADS, with a corporate address in St. Louis, Missouri, has since become the largest not-for-profit source of paid internships for under-represented students, such as Black, Hispanic/Latino and Native American young people, the website states.
The program starts in high schools around the country and elsewhere with one to two hours of the program on Saturdays for nine months each year to develop writing skills, financial literacy, leadership skills and even the etiquette of dining with others so “they are disciplined in those areas” Harper said.
Students’ college years are spent continuing to work on leadership development and the core of the program — paid internships with corporations and businesses or in the arts.
“They can be part of your company — turning in real work,” Harper told the audience. He said students may earn from $8,000 to $10,000 in these internships.
A Strong Pipeline
He said 82% of INROADS interns accept a job with their company. And the lifetime connection with INROADS continues through alumni connections, Harper noted.
The INROADS impact can be seen in 250 companies (financial services, technology, the arts, among others) that participate with internships — and 5,126 undergraduates who are ready for paid internships in those companies, Harper said.
Wall Street careers are a new outlet for these students he said. JP Morgan Chase has worked with INROADS to develop pathways to those careers for the past four years and 125 students each year intern in various parts of the Wall Street industry. He said 86% of interns offered those jobs accept them.
“I’d love to partner with you,” he offered the audience. Attendees were told they could be involved in mentorship “tomorrow,” Harper said. And Jeannie Finkel agreed that if there was one thing attendees could glean from his talk is “we can make something happen.”
A Strategic Partnership
Brown announced at the general session of the conference a strategic partnership of FSI with INROADS to increase representation in the industry of people of color and women, with a focus on mentorships and “roadmaps” specific to a company’s goals, according to a statement from the organization.
“You can be involved with building the next economic pathway to those who are under-represented today,” Harper told his audience.
Trudy Bourgeois and the ‘Great Resignation’
Proactively reaching out to diverse and underserved students as future corporate talent can’t come soon enough, according to Trudy Bourgeois, founder of the Center for Workforce Excellence, which is based in Prosper, Texas.
Bourgeois, who grew up as one of 10 children in Mobile, Alabama in the 1960s, said “it grabbed my soul to see everyone have equal opportunity.”
Brown introduced and led the conversation with Bourgeois, who is both an author and leadership expert. She founded the Center for Workforce Excellence in 2001 after a career in which she became the first African American female appointed to the vice president level at Brown & Williamson Tobacco.
The effects of the Covid pandemic are impacting the number of workers, creating a pressing need for a workforce more representative of our country’s demographics, she said.
The so-called “Great Resignation,” in which monthly job losses in many sectors are at historic highs, means “everyone is going after the same talent,” Bourgeois added.
With that, the pandemic has changed how people work, with more employees wanting a hybrid of some form of work from home.
Employees are saying “I’m going to make a choice about where I work,” she said.
As younger generations come into the workforce as part of the Great Resignation, Bourgeois said new employees will “expect a company to be socially responsible and mirror the community.”
A ‘Tiger Team’
The very sustainability of businesses depends on embracing the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion, she said.
She told the audience that she recommends setting up a “Tiger Team” in a company to look at its culture, its employer brand and its commitment to change.
“Build a disruptive strategy,” she recommended.
It’s also important to track a company’s progress in these areas and not be satisfied. “You have to walk the talk,” she advised.
There is no magical formula to creating a more diverse, inclusive environment, she added — and if any consultant promises that, she offered one word of advice — “Run!”
Start with data about your company then look at your company’s values —“is inclusiveness a value, is diversity a value?” she said.
An all-important aspect of improving diversity at a company is found at the very top — the CEO.
“If the CEO demonstrates a serious commitment,” Bourgeois said, you will be “surprised” at how staff “will really step up.” She said CEOs have to be aware they “don’t know what they don’t know” and expect to “roll up their sleeves and work” through the process. That commitment has to be in action – not only words, she reiterated.
But the benefits of the process will come and she envisions a reinvigorated workplace:
“I want people to be proud, excited about being here, thinking innovative ideas,” she said.
Patricia McDaniel is a freelance writer and editor and former journalist with Gannett’s New Jersey newspapers. She can be reached at [email protected]