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How and why diversity will grow your firm

Nina O'Neal, Triad Advisors

The topics of diversity and inclusion in financial services are finally being widely discussed within our industry. Personally, I do not agree with preferential treatment in hiring — the best candidate should get the job. That being said, I do agree with the general consensus regarding the need hire the best and brightest from a candidate pool that includes all races, genders and sexual preferences.

But beyond that consensus is a less-discussed topic: Why?

Increasing diversity on your team and in your organization can engender a greater feeling of inclusion among your client base and broaden your pool of prospects. When my male business partner and I meet with clients together, for instance, we bring extended knowledge and differing thought patterns. This allows us to offer a deeper understanding of client needs and a clearer understanding of what they want from us. With our very different personalities, experiences and lenses through which we see the world, we can immediately connect with most individuals or couples. On my part, I am excited to meet other working moms and share stories. There is an immediate, mutual recognition and respect of all that we juggle on a day-to-day basis. Alternatively, if the topic of sports comes up, my partner’s got that covered.

When I saw a video referencing a financial advisor in general terms as “her” throughout … I felt seen for the first time in my career.

Our differences aren’t all gender related: He’s from the North and I am from the South; he loves analytics and daily market activity while I prefer to focus on long-term, big-picture investing and love financial planning. Keeping such elements in mind while building a team can really deliver value and improve the client experience.

LGBT clients

According to a recent survey by Gallup, the number of U.S. adults identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender stood at 4.5% in 2017 — putting the number of LGBT adults at approximately 11 million today. Creating a culture of inclusion among employees has the potential to widen advisors’ reach by huge numbers. Just because a client is in the LGBT community doesn’t necessarily mean they only want to work with LGBT advisors. However respect for and consciousness of the problems or challenges that they face is appreciated. For example, adoption can be a huge hurdle for same-sex couples. Also, after the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples, my colleagues and I noticed that many couples had hard conversations about whether or not they wanted to take that legal step. Many did not for various reasons and in some cases that ultimately led to a break-up. All these issues had important financial ramifications. Including members of the LGBT community in your organization can increase awareness and provide insight into a large population of people.

Speaking up

After “why be inclusive,” the next logical question is “how?”

One of the best ways to create a more diverse culture within firms and as an industry is to be mindful of language. Words matter. As a female advisor, I’ve noticed the pronoun “he” is almost exclusively used in our industry when referring to an advisor. After hearing it used repeatedly for 13 years, I was recently shocked when I saw a video referencing a financial advisor in general terms as “her” throughout. I was surprised at how much it affected me, but I felt seen for the first time in my career.

There’s also the issue of male colleagues who make derogatory comments about their female counterparts. In some cases, males calling out other men may be more effective than women having to respond themselves. I appreciated Michael Kitces’ blog post last summer about the discomfort he felt when a male colleague made a derogatory comment to a woman he was standing with at a conference and then his regret for not having said something in the moment.

In some cases, males calling out other men may be more effective than women having to respond themselves.

For minorities, being mindful of language is important as well. Inappropriate comments should not be tolerated by any of us, and we should call out colleagues if they are using derogatory language.

Recently, I appeared as a guest on a video made by my friend and fellow financial advisor Justin Castelli about the challenges of inclusion in financial service. I appreciated Castelli — a white male —taking the initiative to spark the conversation and to have had the opportunity to share my opinion and experiences.

As conversations like this continue, solutions for inclusion from within our industry will come from people from all backgrounds, experiences and communities. I hope that as the numbers of minorities in our profession increase, so will the awareness of how beneficial these individuals are to both our organizations and the clients that we serve.

There is so much to gain, and those that grasp that quickly will benefit sooner.

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