Financial Services Has a Diversity and Inclusion Problem — and It Goes Beyond Ken Fisher

Financial services is one of the least diverse sectors in the U.S. But you didn’t need us to tell you that. Just look at recent headlines to see the state of our industry.

In early October, billionaire CEO Ken Fisher made horrifying, sexist comments at the Tiburon CEO Summit in San Francisco: comparing building client trust to “trying to get into a girl’s pants,” among other disgusting comments.

Fisher has now issued an apology, but it feels less than genuine. Before the apology was issued, he told Bloomberg that he didn’t understand why people were offended: “I have given a lot of talks, a lot of times, in a lot of places and said stuff like this and never gotten that type of response,” he said. “Mostly the audience understands what I am saying.”

Fisher’s complete inability to accept responsibility — or even understand why he was wrong in the first place — shows how insulated white men in finance have become from the rest of the world. As Sallie Krawcheck, cofounder and CEO of Ellevest Financial Inc., notes in her recent Forbes piece, “the financial services industry has been almost completely silent during the #MeToo crisis.”

Women don’t feel comfortable or welcomed at industry conferences.

Women don’t feel comfortable or welcomed in company meetings.

Women don’t feel comfortable or welcomed in finance, period.

This brings us to an important topic that our industry needs to address: inclusion.

Yes, it’s wonderful that the industry is now tackling the issue of diversity and trying to hire more women, minorities, and underrepresented groups — but none of this will make a difference if they don’t feel welcomed.

As Edward Jones financial advisor Jackie King notes in her recent piece for InvestmentNews, “Diversity is visible, but inclusion is felt.”

What Does Inclusion Look Like?

Gallup defines inclusion as a “cultural and environmental feeling of belonging. It can be assessed as the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted, and encouraged to fully participate in the organization.”

What are some examples of inclusion in the workplace in the financial sector?

Why Inclusiveness Is Important

So why is this important? Because, as Allan Boomer writes in Financial Planning, when your firm is not inclusive, employees will constantly have their guard up. They will never feel confident or secure about being themselves at work. They won’t be fully engaged in their jobs, and you can bet they will walk out the door.

Some companies balk at the idea of diversity and inclusion initiatives because it requires introspection about their internal practices — and their personal biases.

But creating an inclusive environment isn’t just common sense; it’s also essential if you want your company to succeed. It affects recruitment, retention, and the bottom line. Here are some stats to back this up:

  • 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities, and more than 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity.
  • Companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues.
  • Companies with more women in leadership positions consistently outperform companies with less than half of their leadership positions filled by women. Higher representation of women in C-suite level positions results in 34% greater returns to shareholders.
  • Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organization (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention.

How to Create an Inclusive Culture

Gallup lists these three requirements for a diverse and inclusive culture:

  1. Everyone treats everyone else with respect.
  2. Managers appreciate the unique characteristics of everyone on their teams.
  3. Leaders do what’s right.

Following these three pillars is a great way to ensure your environment is inclusive. Whether you lead a team at your firm, or you’re thinking about building your own financial planning firm, here are some more actionable steps you can take to enrich your company’s culture:

  • Build communities of support for diverse financial advisors through events and conferences.
  • Offer mentorship programs.
  • Shift the hiring goal from “culture fit” to “culture add.”
  • Hire diverse leadership.
  • Train leadership and managers.
  • Set policies.
  • Create a safe way for employees to communicate issues.
  • Involve employees in discussions about inclusion.
  • As Nathan Yates recommends in his Institutional Investor piece “The Finance Jobs I Didn’t Get,” create a safe environment for employees who are differently abled: 1) Integrate efforts to hire more disabled people into existing diversity programs, 2) increase telecommuting opportunities, and 3) network with assistive technology consultants and with people who can feed qualified disabled candidates into your firm.

How Equita Financial Network Helps

Inclusiveness for women in finance means…

  • Not being chastised for having to request time off to bring your child to a doctor’s appointment.
  • Not having to worry about facing sexual harassment at industry conferences and events.
  • Having coworkers who truly understand the unique challenges that come with being underrepresented, undercompensated, and underappreciated in a male-dominated field.

We have been there. We’ve faced our fair share of dismissive comments from those who could not relate to or understand what women in finance face every day.

This is not to say that men have not been allies or supporters of women in the financial services field, but many have not made the conscious effort to be part of real change. Yes, these are tough issues, ones that are rooted in decades of systemic bias and inequality. But putting them off, or putting band-aids over them, gets us nowhere.

We got tired of waiting for a level playing field, so we built one ourselves — one that actually does prioritize diversity and inclusion.

Equita provides a network of other like-minded, driven women financial planners who want to share best practices, collaborate, and support one another — and that is an important piece that’s missing in our industry.

We created this platform to empower women to build the business they want — and to give them every tool they need to succeed. If you’re interested in joining our network, reach out to us today.

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