Diversity is viewed in very different ways by readers of InvestmentNews. This came into sharp focus when reading the responses to a survey on diversity we conducted in July as a sounding board for this week's issue.
This edition of InvestmentNews and its ongoing initiative on the subject define diversity in several ways: race, ethnicity, sexual-orientation, disability, age, gender — and essentially, the diversity of thought that comes from varied life experiences.
One group of readers thinks active steps to foster diversity are unnecessary or even harmful, particularly when it comes to race. Their comments include:
"Racism should be forgotten and seen only in history."
"It's a non-issue."
"The financial service industry only cares about one trait: the ability of an adviser to create value and earn money for the firm. To that extent, I would argue most firms are blind to race."
"The goal of any organization should be to hire the best-performing people for the positions required. Making those decisions on the basis of race is a mistake."
"If we are honest about race not being an issue, we shouldn't go out and TRY to find someone racially different from ourselves."
Another perspective comes from those who have experienced discrimination or seen it, or acknowledge it exists, and believe diversity efforts are worth the challenges that come with them. Their comments include:
"Outright racism prevents many firms from targeting diverse populations as prospects and from considering minority applicants."
"As a female in this male-dominated business, I know how important diversification is. When we hire, I would like to have the option for adding racial diversity ..."
"Attracting diverse candidates as well as younger candidates could lead to improved perceptions of the industry, as well as develop stronger ties to those underserved populations."
"It is extremely important for individuals of all backgrounds to have a presence within industries that impact their community."
A smaller group thought that whether discrimination is prevalent in the advice industry or not, diversity will surely grow as firms realize its revenue upside.
"The more inclusion, the more attainable assets."
What hopefully everyone can concede is that the business case has already been made for the benefits of a wider perspective in terms of innovative thinking by employees and strengthened connections to an increasingly diverse market. (Peter Grauer of Bloomberg LP explains several of these factors.)
But wanting a diverse staff or an ability to serve a diverse population sometimes feels easier said than done. (Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis of the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning highlights several obstacles.)
But it can be done.
What is critical is a commitment by an organization from the top, down. Strategies must be configured to meet specific milestones toward hiring, retaining and promoting people of diverse backgrounds. (Contributions from Lule Demmissie of TD Ameritrade, Brian Thompson of Brian Thompson Financial and Phuong Luong of Just Wealth explore ways to productively broach diversity in the workplace and bolster efforts toward real inclusion.)
Small advisory firms may say, "This doesn't apply to me. I have a staff of two, and I'm one of them!" But diversity doesn't begin and end with hiring. A commitment to diversity also involves realizing the gap that exists in access to the financial advice industry — whether due to a lack of knowledge about the job opportunities or negative assumptions about using an adviser. If you care about that gap, it's time to get creative about what you can do to bridge it.
Everyone who wants to can make a dent in the lack of diversity in and around financial advice. In turn, those will be the people and firms who profit from a more open profession.