Updated: Oct 15, 2020
White privilege is a concept worth examining for any wealth management professionals who seek to be allies to Black financial advisors.
I describe white privilege by painting this picture: If you died and you were reincarnated, would you choose to come back as a Black person?
This question often invokes imagined thoughts of life as a Black person and shines the light on biases that may feel uncomfortable, embarrassing or even shameful. Don’t let that discomfort stop you: Awareness is the first step in growth and advancement.
But why should advisors imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes?
You listen differently to their needs, values, and goals. Your firm’s mission, vision, values and structure give room for populations that often do not have representation, voice and influence in the decision-making process. You demonstrate that diversity and inclusion matters, not as a token gesture, but as a measure of respect and appreciation.
Empathy and understanding help you to lead by example.
In our profession, considering how a white person lives versus a Black person also unearths the way unconscious bias infects wealth management offices.
When you consider your answer to my question, you may begin to realize that there are certain conversations and opportunities that allow colleagues who look like you direct access to better positions, salaries and networks. This sparks another question: How does one acknowledge this advantage based on race and share this privilege with those deserving of participation?
So, I ask the question again: if you were to come back as a member of a different race, could you handle Black skin and Black life?
You could be thinking about all of the opportunities you were denied even as a white financial professional in comparison to the known sufferings of Black advisors. Imagine how this effect is compounded for those who don’t look like you, or worse, who don’t have the same experiences as you based on where they grew up, the way they experienced school and the workplace or the way they prepared for encounters with authorities.
There is plenty of data that demonstrate the inequities between Blacks and whites today. What seems to be missing from the conversation is the emotion, the appreciation and the respect that each person regardless of race hopes for with each encounter.
Further, we know that employers in wealth management seek talent with education and experience; yet, these employers have difficulty connecting with a growing, diverse talent pool from which to attract talented colleagues.
This is a call to recognize that you can avail yourself to a wider universe of individuals who will help you grow your business. The choice is yours. Your voice and presence often carry more influence than of those of us who are not white and often don’t have the same platform.
I hope you will embrace some of these tangible ways of recognizing and sharing your privilege:
Answer the question posed above to help you discover your biases.
Challenge yourself to consider if you have any fears surrounding increased diversity in your practice or firm.
Be vulnerable and ask Black advisors and wealth management professionals about their experiences. Listen to believe and understand what you hear.
Find ways to amplify the talent and humanity of Black professionals in performance reviews, promotion opportunities and networking engagements.
Examine your firm’s hiring and promotion structures for biases.
At a minimum, have a hiring policy that states no one can make an offer for employment unless a representative number of Black candidates were evaluated and interviewed for the job.
In asking my question about reincarnation as a professional of a different hue, my goal is for you to recognize how race unjustly defines the characteristics and ability of a professional. Many of the exact same methods also apply to sharing your privilege with Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other minorities.
None of us had the power to choose our skin color; yet, we are responsible for how we engage with fellow advisors and our clients with the knowledge of how skin color translates to access and advancement.
Acknowledging your unique privilege as a white professional in a predominantly white industry is a tangible way of staying relevant in an increasingly diverse environment by #DoingTheWork. And it has the added benefit of helping to support and respect people who have been left out of our industry for far too long.
This article written by Lazetta Rainey Braxton, MBA, CFP® originally appeared in Financial Planning.