Toward a Truly Diverse Profession

The profession has a diversity and inclusion problem. Look at the speakers pictured on the advertisements for financial planning conferences, and you see white men in business suits with occasional white women.

Black and Brown speakers? Asian speakers? Almost never.

And, of course, the audience at these conferences has roughly the same racial makeup as a white nationalist convention, even if the spirit is very different.

I recently authored a “Voices of Inclusion” issue of my Inside Information newsletter, where I interviewed 19 people who are addressing this issue in one way or another. One of the first things I learned is that the lack of diversity is not so much a problem to be fixed as a huge lost opportunity for the profession. Because so many advisory firms are recruiting within their own closed network, they miss out on a much broader range of candidates – at a time when so many firms are complaining of a talent shortage.

At the same time, minority communities – who will soon make up more than 50% of the U.S. population – are unaware that financial planning even exists. That means that many talented people will never move into the financial planning career path. And a huge number of Americans, currently and for the foreseeable future, will never think to access the services of a financial planner.

The exercise taught me that “diversity” is not the goal of Black, Brown and Asian financial planners; what they’re looking for in a prospective employer is ”inclusion.” Saundra Davis, of Sage Financial Solutions in San Francisco, CA, who teaches financial planning at Golden Gate University, stopped me in my tracks when I suggested there was an excellent business case for hiring Black financial planners. She said that the entire premise of the diversity conversation is flawed to its core.

“You see articles on the ‘business case’ to hire a Black person, right?” she asked me.


“When,” said Davis, “have you ever heard anybody have to make a ‘business case’ to hire a white person?”

For too many centuries, Davis said, Black Americans have been trying to get the rest of the country to see them as fully human, as people, colleagues, friends, neighbors and respected professionals. “We’re tired,” she said. “We’re tired of trying to get people to understand that our very humanity is at risk every single day. I have a 40-year-old son who I worry about every time he walks out of the house.”