Despite significant corporate commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion, progress in expanding the minority ranks in financial services is stymied by a lack of mentoring, sponsorship, and the simple inability to communicate the positive opportunities that exist within the industry.
That was just one of the takeaways from a webinar this week presented by InsuranceNewsNet titled “DEI Success: From making a great hire, to serving a wider audience.”
The need to diversify participation of women and people of color in financial services has never been greater and can directly impact a company’s bottom line, presenters agreed. But there’s a huge difference between giving lip service to diversity and actually welcoming, encouraging and promoting it within the corporate office.
”It's one thing to say all the right things and to have the diverse spaces on the brochures,” said Kristen Hall Eskew, vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at OneDigital. “But unless there is trust and connection and sincerity, it really doesn't mean anything.”
Despite progress, Eskew said current industry numbers show just 18% of financial advisors are women, 5% are Hispanic, 4% Asian American, and less than 3% are Black.
“To me that says, we still have a lot of work to do,” she said. “I think we're still very much at the beginning stages to being more diverse and inclusive and equitable.”
Others agreed that execution and results are lagging within the financial services sector.
“Where I see a disconnect is oftentimes when I walk into a corporate office, it looks fairly diverse with a lot of different faces and different backgrounds,” said Toni Gonzales, vice president of Ohio National, and vice president of Women in Insurance and Financial Services. “But when you go out into the field, or walk into an agency office, you don't see the same representation. And gender diversity is just one component. You may walk in and not see anyone who reminds you of yourself.”
Eskew, who likes to add a “B” for “belonging” to the DEI acronym, said a goal in achieving diversity is to allow employees the freedom to bring their authentic selves to work and be among people of shared experiences, culture and backgrounds.
“We're talking about groups of people who walk into offices and don't see themselves represented,” she said. “To me, belonging is not just being accepted for who you are. A culture of belonging says, ‘I depend on you to be you.’ You don't feel right when you show up as anyone other than yourself.”
'You have to open the door'
Gonzales boiled down the challenge for corporations to “you can’t be what you can’t see.”
“Once you start having a more diverse workforce, people start coming in the door,” she said. “But to do that, you have to open the door and welcome people.”
The panelists recommended companies enhance their hiring infrastructure, mentoring programs and employee sponsorships to boost diversity within their ranks.
“Often these minority groups are over mentored and under sponsored,” said Eskew. “And it's important to define the difference. A mentor is someone who's going to teach you how to network and help you think big and dream big. But a sponsor is going to give you their network; a sponsor is going to invest in you and the payout for them is your success.”
There was unanimous agreement that the financial services industry doesn’t do enough to communicate its opportunities and push back against a significant distrust among the public.
“This is a profession not unlike the being in law or being in the medical community, where you can make a big difference in people's lives, and you can carry yourself forward into whatever direction you want,” said Gonzales. “So one of the biggest issues we have is letting individuals know that the ability to work directly with consumers and be in the field exists. Let them know how they could shape people’s future and make a difference in their own lives, but also make a difference in consumers’ lives.”
Doug Bailey is a journalist and freelance writer who lives outside of Boston. He can be reached at [email protected].