Illuminated purple logos and iridescent lights bathed the Edison Ballroom in New York City on Tuesday as the industry’s top leaders were celebrated for their commitment to making financial advice more diverse, equitable and inclusive.
Among a sea of white table cloths and sparkling champagne glasses, executives safely gathered for the 4th annual InvestmentNews Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Awards — the first live event hosted by InvestmentNews since pandemic began.
Fittingly, the event was centered around a critical need for executives in the industry to increase DEI efforts as the current civil unrest is deeply connected to the racial and economic disparities exposed by the coronavirus crisis.
Shundrawn Thomas, president of Northern Trust Asset Management, who was honored with a lifetime achievement award, set the tone as he reminded attendees that conversations and actions to address DEI efforts are “just getting started” as the last 18 months have enabled more individuals to listen to people of color tell their truths. “The most powerful tool we have is our voice, and our voices shape the culture,” he said.
Thomas also presented a call to action for individuals that are in the racial majority. Listening is not enough: the leaders of firms need to set the tone and establish ways that more people of color can have access to equity.
“What is still happening in most places is folks that are in the majority are sitting back and listening to the conversation — that’s not a true dialogue,” Thomas said. “It’s all about equity, equity is ownership in the economic interest of the community.”
One of the best ways for leaders to get started is by keeping their ego in check, Thomas said.
“When you get older in your life and get a little bit of a position, you have to always keep your ego down, because some of the best ideas and accountability is often coming from the least experienced people,” he said. “Everyone has something to teach you if you’re willing to listen.”
InvestmentNews also recognized 10 See It Be It role models, four rising stars, seven firms for their outstanding efforts in building a diverse advisory business, and nine other firms for championing diversity efforts in the industry.
One at a time, each honoree was recognized and had a moment on the stage to share the success stories of the people and firms that are making a real difference in the industry.
Tragically, one success story was missing. Michelle Avan, a 2021 See It Be It role model passed away in August. She held a job at Bank of America Corp. as senior vice president and head of global women’s and under-represented talent strategy, global human resources.
“We remember her passion and impressive work on behalf of diversity, equity and inclusion in the financial advice industry,” said InvestmentNews Chief Content Officer George Moriarty during the event. The audience shared a moment to honor her memory as Amazing Grace was sung by gospel singer Marcus Peña.
Before the awards luncheon, winners of DEI awards and other industry professionals, Lule Demmissie, CEO of eToro US; Kristi Rodriguez, senior vice president of Retirement Institute at Nationwide Financial; and Leo Tucker, managing partner at Northwestern Mutual, discussed existing challenges and shared blueprints for actionable solutions to boosting diversity in the profession.
“Without diversity there is not innovation and without innovation there is no relevance — period,” said Demmissie during the panel.
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Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.