‘Stories and scars:’ CFP Board diversity summit spotlights difficult road ahead

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"You can't be what you can't see."

That's one of the primary messages the CFP Board is trying to send as part of its ongoing efforts to improve diversity inclusion in the planning profession.

"Young people will want to see people who look like them. All young people, not just young people of color," Phuong Luong, a CFP and founder of Just Wealth, said at the board's Diversity Summit at the Times Center in New York.

It's a sentiment that's also backed by research on how minorities thrive — and fail — in corporate workplaces, according to panelist Frank Dobbin, professor of sociology at Harvard University.

"We have a national problem with figuring out how to attract people [of color], keep them and move them into management,” Dobbin said.

The board’s inaugural Diversity Summit builds on mounting industry interest in improving its historically dismal record on growing the ranks of minorities and women in wealth management.

A mere 3.5% of CFP holders in 2017 were black or Latino, according to the CFP Board. There are currently about 82,000 CFP professionals.

“Obviously, this was significantly less than their share of the overall population,” CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller told attendees. “This is a systemic problem that cannot be addressed by any one organization, firm or individual. It requires getting people engaged, identifying solutions and take action.”

Looking beyond CFP holders, a mere 6% of financial advisors are Black even though they constitute about 13% of the U.S. population, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau.

While re-emphasizing the importance of bringing more advisors of color into the industry, FPA president and advisor Frank Paré said he was "a little uncomfortable with firms hiring Black folks to serve Black folks."

"Firms should have a value proposition that serves all … Like-for-like allows people to remain in their comfort zone, their isolation — and for lack of a better term — racist ideology," Paré, who spoke alongside Dobbin during a panel, said. Good advisors should be able to work with every client they're sitting across from, he added. "If you don't have that empathy, that's something you need to work on."

Earlier in the morning, three advisors were given the floor to share personal experiences and encounters with racism throughout their careers. The stories evoked an array of emotions from the audience — laughter during the high points, gasps and tears during the low.

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"It was [experiences] early in my career that told me in order to fit in, I needed to code switch," said Rianka Dorsainvil, founder of Your Greatest Contribution. She recalled instances where she felt she needed to present herself a certain way in order to avoid derogatory comments or microaggressions — indirect, subtle or unintentional discriminatory comments or actions — from colleagues and clients.

Dorsainvil recalled being reluctant to wear her hair curly since racial stereotypes have helped classify straight hair as being neat. During a meeting where she was set to do a presentation before clients, someone remarked that her hair looked more "casual" because she wore it curly. "Needless to say, I did not go on to present in that meeting," Dorsainvil said. She said the senior advisor she was presenting with noticed she was less confident "in a matter of seconds."

Luong said she has found it empowering to study and understand the history of racism in America, notably at the institutional level.

"I've had white people and people of color tell me, 'Doesn't this information demotivate people of color or discourage change?'" she said. "Learning financial history has confirmed for me the power, strength and resilience for people of color. After all the racist laws, the violence, the theft of community and individual wealth, we are in many ways persisting and thriving."

During an audience Q&A later during the conference, a young woman asked "at what cost" people of color should be expected to push to enter an industry where they face racial barriers and biases.

Panelist and advisor Lazetta Braxton recalled an instance where a firm she worked at had a client who repeatedly used racial slurs in conversations. Her superiors did not come to her defense, a lack of solidarity she found unacceptable.

People of color should not be expected to build clients up if they aren't being supported, said Braxton, who is also chair of the the Association of African American Financial Advisors. "When folks in the firm don’t speak up, the question is ‘Will we leave?’ Hell yes.”

Braxton offered a message of solidarity. "For those who have the stories and the scars, you are not alone." she said. "If you are sitting out there and don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, find out.”

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Diversity and equality Recruiting CFPs Practice management Frank Pare Kevin Keller CFP Board