I am sure that we’re all familiar with the phrase, “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” This saying encourages us to consider being empathetic, but is being empathetic enough when it comes to supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in the financial profession? In a word, “No.”
Empathy is a good beginning, but it needs to be accompanied by action. I’m reminded of a conversation many years ago with my friend Louis Barajas. At the time we were members of the Financial Planning Association’s Diversity Committee. We were discussing strategies on how we could move the needle on providing access to financial advice in diverse communities. I suggested hosting pro bono clinics at bookstores like Barnes & Noble across the country in underserved communities. What Louis said next changed me forever. In a good way.
“Lee, that probably works in Atlanta. You have a lot of bookstores everywhere. But we don’t have any Barnes & Noble in the barrio,” he replied.
Since that day, I have tried to always look through the eyes of others. Which leads me to my next point.
If you, as an individual member of the majority community, are well intentioned and truly want everyone to succeed, it’s entirely possible to take a look around and feel as if everything is OK. That’s because for you, everything may be OK. That is not necessarily the case for me, members of the Latino community, women, LGBTQ or military personnel, to name a few.
Please understand that this isn’t a case of the blame game. It’s a request to thoughtfully consider how things look in the eyes of another.
For a profession that considers diversification the touchstone of a lot of the work we do for our clients, it does cause me to furrow my eyebrows on occasion when the topic of diversity in the profession comes up.
During a recent virtual symposium, I was struck by a comment in the chat from a planner I’ve known for decades. During the session, which focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, my colleague typed “Don’t forget about us old white guys” into the chat. I submit that the profession of financial planning can no more forget about white guys than we can construct portfolios without allocating to domestic equity. It just ain’t going to happen.
I encourage all of us to take the time to try to look through the eyes of another. That means I need to take the time to try to look through the eyes of my friend and think about why he felt the need to ask not to be forgotten.
What comes next is equally important for all of us. We must engage in these conversations differently. Sometimes these conversations can feel uncomfortable. Discomfort is good. It’s in that feeling of discomfort that we can begin to grow. As we learn from these conversations, we all need to commit to taking action. We can’t shut down and get defensive when we’re told that there isn’t a Barnes & Noble in the barrio. That’s the time to learn a different way to move forward.
I’m a preacher’s kid and sometimes I just can’t help myself. The older I get, the more I find myself thinking back to what my mother and father taught me. So before I end, let me leave you with two things. The book of James says, “Faith without works is dead.” If you see your brother or sister lacking, it’s not enough to simply empathize. We must all put words and thoughts into action. Finally, as my mother would often say, “When you know better, do better!” Let’s go to work.
Lee Baker is CEO and president of Apex Financial Services, a registered investment adviser based in Atlanta.
DEI must be front and center to face inequalities
Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.