By now, everyone (or most everyone) has heard about the litany of offensive comments slung by Ken Fisher at the Tiburon CEO Summit.
To recap: During a fireside chat, Fisher, founder and chairman of Fisher Investments, made what some attendees called “absolutely horrifying” comments during his session with summit attendees.
The Tiburon CEO Summit has traditionally been a place for industry execs to speak candidly and off the record about their respected fields. However, one guest was so troubled by what he heard at this year’s summit that he took to Twitter to voice his concerns.
Alex Chalekian of Lake Avenue Financial posted a video to Twitter in which he said Fisher made comments about Jeffrey Epstein, taking illicit drugs and picking up women among other lewd things.
“I’m truly disgusted,” Chalekian said. “When I was listening to this stuff, I didn’t know if it was a joke or what was going on. I was a deer in the headlights. My jaw dropped.”
Fisher ruefully said to other financial news outlets that his comments were “taken out of context” and “misconstrued,” offering an apology to those he offended.
Apology or no apology, deliberate or not, Fisher’s words raise a concerning question about the financial services industry and its recent efforts to bring more women and diversity into the field.
Are comments like those allegedly made by Fisher hurting industry initiatives to encourage diversity and inclusion? Are actions like Fisher’s the norm behind closed doors in the financial services industry or is this simply a one-off occurrence?
Laura LaTourette, a financial planner based in Georgia said, “I don’t think this is just a one-off occurrence. I think behind closed doors in finance there’s plenty of discussion about women we would find totally offensive.”
To LaTourette’s point, Chalekian said not only were other men and women at the conference disgusted by this, but other women cited it as a reason they often choose to forego attending conferences.
Chalekian said. “It was one of the reasons that was expressed to me the reason why they [women] don’t like coming to these conferences – it makes them feel uncomfortable …”
Chip Roame, managing partner of Tiburon Strategic Advisors said in a statement that the closed door policy is meant to encourage dialogue, not spur bad behavior. “The point of the Tiburon CEO Summit media policy is to adhere to SEC rules, encourage open dialog, and protect proprietary insights, not hide offensive behaviors. Tiburon seeks candid exchanges of views, not to hide inappropriate, offensive, and/or crude remarks. Tiburon has an inclusive culture and I will personally defend that at all costs. “
Roame also acknowledged in his statement that the industry has an inclusion issue.
“Women account for 58% of employees in financial services, but only 48% of first and mid-level management roles, and 31% of senior & executive level management roles. And frankly, that is propped up by women’s relatively higher success in banking. In investment management, these numbers are 51%, 41%, and 26%.
"In brokerage, the numbers are 39%, 34%, and 19%. Results in wealth & investment management are horrible. And the participation of minorities may even be a bigger issue. This is a big issue,” Roame stated.
Times Have Changed
Brian Hart, founder and president of Flackable, a Philadelphia-based public relations firm said Fisher’s comments are out of touch.
“It’s not the good old boys club anymore and that’s a good thing that it’s not,” Hart said. “But he’s still giving the same good-old-boys talk and there’s really just not a place for that in a professional setting."
Roame also called for action in his statement saying that the progress needs to be made on matters of inclusion.
“The industry’s issue will not be improved by a few people sending off uniformed tweets and emails, making further accusations, Roame said. “Propose how you can work with Tiburon to address these issues. Propose CEO-level women (and minority) speakers for our Tiburon CEO Summits. Help us recruit them to come speak.
"Bring on your ideas and your hours of effort! This is a serious industry issue. Let’s move past the Tweets and get to work on the dignity and inclusion issues. Comments like we heard on Tuesday, in my opinion, will discourage women from participating in the wealth & investment management industry.”
Hart agrees with Roame. He believes there’s cause for optimism even as the damaging remarks continue to stir reactions from the industry.
“We haven’t really seen a story like this in financial services yet,” Hart said. “We’ve seen it in a lot of other industries. But we knew it was coming and obviously it’s not good what he is alleged to have said, but I think it’s starting a healthy conversation within financial services. So if you could take one positive from this awful situation I think it’s that it’s prompting a conversation that is long overdue in this industry.”
AdvisorNews Managing Editor Cassie Miller may be reached at [email protected] Cassie has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. Follow her on Twitter @ANCassieM.