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Fostering Diversity and Inclusion in the Financial Planning Profession

Rita Cheng May 2, 2024

Modern workplace diversity with smiling colleagues

The financial planning profession stands at a crossroads of change. As we push towards creating a more inclusive and diverse profession, reflecting on our journey, understanding the importance of this transformation, and highlighting practical steps for advisors and firms to embrace diversity is crucial.

In 2007, my journey into fostering diversity in financial planning began with my involvement in CFP Board’s Women’s Initiative (WIN), aiming to bring more women into the profession. This endeavor evolved into a broader commitment as I joined the Diversity Advisory Group (DAG), driving efforts to make the profession more inclusive and reflective of society’s diversity. At the same time, I contributed to the diversity initiatives of the Financial Planning Association (FPA) by leading scholarship programs to reduce entry barriers for underrepresented groups.

Through diversity summits, scholarships, and other ventures we’ve made strides in opening the financial planning profession to a more diverse group of talent. However, there’s still work to be done, and in my time promoting diversity, I’ve learned several things firms can do to attract diverse talent and create a more inclusive culture.

The Importance of Diversity and Reflecting Communities Served

Financial planning is about much more than numbers—it’s about nurturing the financial health and aspirations of diverse communities. To engage effectively, we must ensure that our field reflects the people we serve. A profession comprised of different cultures, experiences, and perspectives is better equipped to understand and address a broader range of client needs with empathy.

Mentors are invaluable in the personal and professional growth of emerging financial planners—guiding, teaching, and inspiring. But it’s the building of professional networks that truly propels diverse talents forward. With a generous spirit and an expansive approach, we can commit to fostering not just the entry but the flourishing of newcomers to our field.

When we encourage the success of financial planners from all backgrounds, we not only advance their careers but also add depth and resilience to our profession. This collective progress allows us to better serve our communities, ensuring that financial well-being becomes a shared, inclusive journey.

Practical Ways for Advisors to Attract and Support Diverse Talent

Creating a diverse environment in financial planning is more than a goal—it’s a commitment to specific, impactful measures. Here’s how advisors and firms can actively foster diversity:

Invest in diversity scholarships: Financial support can significantly ease the burden for those from underrepresented backgrounds, paving the way for a more inclusive entry into the financial planning field. Scholarships signal both encouragement and belief in the potential of diverse candidates.

Elevate through recognition: It’s crucial to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of individuals from diverse groups. By recommending them for roles on committees, positions to receive awards, or opportunities to speak publicly, you not only enhance their visibility but also affirm their contributions and boost confidence.

Build understanding and embrace accountability: Even if diversity doesn’t seem important or relevant for your firm, it’s essential to grasp its significance. A future-focused organization will recognize that the next wave of clients and employees will not only value but expect diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Emerging talent will look to align with firms that not only talk about diversity but also visibly stand by their commitment through their policies and culture.

Provide supportive mentorship: Pairing seasoned professionals with rising talents from a range of backgrounds fosters a culture of inclusiveness, knowledge sharing, and mutual respect, in addition to essential professional guidance.

By embracing these practices, financial professionals and firms will not only enrich their own corporate culture but also set a standard in the profession, reflecting the diverse world in which we all live and work. The efforts put into attracting and supporting diversity are an investment in the collective future of the financial planning profession.

Fostering an Inclusive Firm Culture

Fostering an inclusive firm culture is a multifaceted endeavor that goes well beyond the act of bringing diverse individuals through the door. It requires a deep commitment to creating an environment where every employee, regardless of their background, feels genuinely valued, seen, and understood. This means implementing inclusive practices that touch every aspect of an employee’s experience within the firm.

Here are some strategies for building such a culture:

Recognizing All Holidays

Acknowledgment of cultural and religious holidays beyond the standard federal holidays is a simple yet profound way to demonstrate respect for the diversity of your workforce. By allowing employees to take time off for occasions significant to them, firms can show that they value and recognize the different cultures represented in their teams. This practice not only fosters a sense of belonging but can also educate and expose other employees to different cultures, enriching the workplace environment.

Expanding Bereavement Leave

Understanding that the concept of family does not have a one-size-fits-all definition is another simple way to support inclusivity. Traditional bereavement leaves often recognize immediate family members, but this can exclude those who consider close friends, mentors, or pets as family. By expanding bereavement leave policies to include the loss of chosen family members and pets, firms convey a compassionate acknowledgment of the diverse family structures present in today’s society. This type of support can be particularly meaningful during difficult times and can help employees bring their whole selves to work.

Dietary Accommodations

Inclusivity extends into the realm of company events and meetings where food is provided. Attention to dietary restrictions and preferences—whether due to religious beliefs, health reasons, or personal choice—ensures all employees can participate fully and comfortably. Taking the step to offer a variety of food options not only shows thoughtfulness but also enhances the communal experience.

Professional Development

Equitable access to professional development resources and opportunities is a cornerstone of an inclusive workplace. Employees from underrepresented groups often face unique challenges and barriers in their careers. By allocating funds and resources fairly, placing an emphasis on mentorship, and actively supporting the career advancement of diverse talent, firms can address some of these challenges. Professional development helps everyone, but for marginalized individuals, it respects the fact that they’ve been traditionally excluded from this profession.

Recognize Talent in All Forms

An inclusive firm will recognize the fact that everyone brings something different to the table. You may have an idea of what the ideal financial advisor is like. You may talk about who in your firm is a good fit for certain roles. But the moment you start talking about “fit,” you’re talking about your preconceived notions about success, and potentially excluding qualified individuals who could bring a new perspective. To support inclusivity at all levels of your firm, keep an open mind and try to forget about “fit.” Focus on what each unique individual has to offer.

Implementing these practices requires intentional effort and ongoing commitment. However, the payoff is substantial: a more inclusive culture leads to a more engaged workforce, increased job satisfaction, and ultimately, a stronger, more resilient firm.

Final Thoughts

It should be every financial planning professional’s mission to create a profession rich with diverse voices and experiences, better serving all clients. Simple acts like offering scholarships, celebrating diverse team members, and fostering supportive mentorship are steps towards this inclusive future.

By respecting every culture and providing equal growth opportunities, we ensure everyone feels at home and valued. This isn’t just about doing what’s right; it’s about shaping a financial world where everyone can thrive.

Image of Rita Cheng
About the Author

Marguerita (Rita) Cheng helps educate the public, policy makers, and media about the benefits of competent, ethical financial planning. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, Rita helps people meet their life goals through the proper management of financial resources. She is passionate about helping them navigate some of life’s most difficult issues—divorce, death, career changes, caring for aging relatives—so they can feel confident and in control of their finances. Rita is a regular columnist for Investopedia and Kiplinger, and a past spokesperson for the AARP Financial Freedom Campaign. Rita volunteers her time as a SoleMate, or charity runner for Girls on the Run, raising money to win scholarships for girls. She is also a coach for 261Fearless, a global supportive social running network which empowers women to connect and take control of their lives through the freedom gained by running.

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