For June's celebration of Pride Month, I was part of a valuable discussion about the intersection of LGBTQ and fintech. My fellow panelists and I celebrated Pride and gains in diversity and inclusion, and talked about how to be momentum-drivers, not only in our organizations but in our communities.
These conversations are critical because we are still so far behind the curve when it comes to diversity and inclusion in financial services. Part of that is the socioeconomic and demographic reality of wealth management services and the makeup of their consumer base, where shifts happen slowly, even if they should not.
But there is some positive movement. Interestingly enough, robo-adviser users are increasingly more diverse than consumers of traditional wealth management providers, according to Corporate Insight. Positive indicators and trends like this show technology is an element that can help level the playing field for individual investors.
So, what should diverse financial advisers do to build on this momentum and challenge our industry to be better?
1. Build confidence. Confidence is a key ingredient to success. Not only that, but the lack of confidence can really play tricks on your mind. It can trick your mind into thinking you cannot do something that you can. Feed confidence through knowledge and practice — by reading, doing and learning everything you can related to your craft and beyond.
It's important for underrepresented individuals to be visible and have a voice in financial services, and building confidence can help expand their career. Confidence also gives a person the fortitude to take risks in their career. Without learning to take smart risks, it is nearly impossible to grow.
2. Build networks. Continuously nurture your support networks, whether within the diverse communities you identify with or by seeking out allies. This is where the value of having mentors and advocates comes in as well. It was important for me in my professional development to have mentors and advocates who saw my potential and helped me on the basis of my character, talents and knowledge — regardless of how they identified.
A lack of diversity also can hurt underrepresented financial professionals if those networks don't have as much shared history, or context, with the individual. For example, if someone in power is uncomfortable about someone bringing up their same-sex spouse, that in itself can be a hindrance to genuine sponsorship, even when there isn't a talent gap. As a natural introvert, this was one of the hardest skills for me to nurture, but I realize that without a community or network with strength of all stripes, it is hard to make progress.
3. Build mental fortitude. There will be individuals who discriminate and individuals whose minds you will change. And the insidious nature of discrimination is that it is not always black and white. It takes a lot of mental discipline, but it is important to protect your own energy and mental health if you can be savvy about which battles to take on, which to change through influence and which you simply put aside. Be very deliberate about these three choices because the goal is still progress. But be intentional about what burdens you or harms your mental clarity. The erosion of your mental clarity can damage your confidence. (See #1 for why confidence is key.)
4. Be better. You cannot have a chance of winning without continuously raising your skills. My father always used to tell me (and still does): "I know it's a tough game, Lule, but you just have to be better. You owe it to those who sacrificed before you, and to pave the way for those coming after you." As financial professionals of underrepresented groups, we have to be constantly elevating our talent and knowledge. This is not to imply we are not skilled! I simply stress the importance of continuously refreshing our skills.
5. Open doors. Underrepresented communities may not have as many doors open for them, but I still encourage individuals to find ways to open doors for others. It's hard when you feel you have to struggle to keep doors open for yourself, but it is imperative to give back regardless. By being a deliberate opener-of-doors, you're nurturing a wider network of people who believe in you. We will not achieve diversity in our industry without being more deliberate about opening doors for others. It is also important to help those who do not have the means or access to mentorship to advance in their career. The simple reality is that we have to be in a continuous state of giving to others.
Of course, life cannot be summed up in just five "best practices," but these are a few that have helped me in my professional journey and may be of use to other future leaders as they encourage and cultivate these traits.
The financial services firms of tomorrow will be the ones that play a key role in this diversification and leveling of the playing field. Companies should help create and nurture networks for people, but these don't always have to be corporate directives. Many companies have affinity organizations they can tap into to create opportunities for individuals who feel locked out and enable them to access support and build confidence. Companies should also nurture networks of allies.
If the financial services industry believes that diversity is important (and it should, because it is the right thing and because of the demographic trends in U.S.), then it's critical to foster diversity both intentionally and authentically. Many consumers of wealth management services are not diverse today, but tomorrow they will be.
Lule Demmissie is managing director of investment products and guidance at TD Ameritrade. She is responsible for the strategy, development and management of TD's investment and planning products.