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Putting Diversity and Inclusivity into Financial Action

(From the July 2020 Edition of eFORUM)

By Erin Bury

2020 has been a year of introspection and change for every business owner, whether planned or not. First, COVID-19 necessitated a move to remote work, and a shift to online business practices and client communication. Then, George Floyd’s death caused a tsunami of outrage, and rightfully so. It’s been truly remarkable to see all voices united in demanding change and affirming that Black Lives Matter. Social initiatives like Blackout Tuesday also made it impossible to stay silent — businesses were forced to take a stand and show their support, because silence is equal to complicity. I’ve learned that it isn’t enough to not be racist; as employers, we have to be actively anti-racist and vocal in our support.

If you’re like me, you took a long, hard look at your own business and wondered what you should do and say. And like me, you likely also looked at the diversity in your business and realized it doesn’t represent the diversity you know it should. At Willful we get an A+ for gender diversity; 50% of the company is female-identifying, including all three C-Level titles.

But we have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to hiring Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, intersex, agender/asexual/ally (LGBTQIA+) team members. Our clients represent all genders, sexual orientations, and races, so having employees who represent diverse voices just means we’ll build a better product long term, and we can better serve customers.

As I set out to learn about how we could create a more inclusive culture and implement practices that encourage diverse voices, I realized that technology isn’t the only male-dominated industry that struggles with diverse representation. Many studies show two-thirds of financial advisors are men, and 86% are white. If you’re also looking at your practices to see where you can change that ratio, here are some places to start.

Examine your culture and policies.

If you hire diverse voices but don’t create an environment where everyone can thrive, retaining talent will be a challenge. I’m not in human resources, so I turned to Bloom, a firm that specializes in building diverse teams. While you don’t have to hire a third party, it may be a way to remove your biases and benefit from category expertise. We’re working together to review our employee handbook to ensure it uses inclusive language (removing gendered mentions), reviewing our benefits program to ensure we have therapy credits and appropriate mental health resources, reviewing and improving discrimination and harassment policies, creating salary bands to ensure pay equity, and ensuring we have policies for new parents, all with the goal that our policies create a safe space for any team member.

Show your commitment to building a diverse team.

Building a diverse team can’t just be lip service, or one black square on your Instagram profile. What are you actually doing to make BIPOC people feel safe, and how are you committing to educating yourself and your team over time? At Willful we shared our commitment to improving our diversity with the larger team, and offered to buy a number of anti-racism books for anyone who wanted to learn. We donated to anti-racism organizations, both personally and on behalf of the company. We hired MESH Diversity to hold an anti-racism workshop for our team, and are using their anti-racism software to educate team members on an ongoing basis. And we made it clear that we were working with industry experts to improve our track record for BIPOC hiring. While that’s a great start, the true test will come over time, as we continue to invest in this area. Now we have to put our money where our mouth is by hiring and promoting BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ employees.

Build equitable hiring practices.

Finally, building a diverse team starts with equitable hiring practices. Avery Francis, the founder of Bloom, is helping with the wording of our job descriptions, knowing that women are less likely to apply for jobs they don’t feel qualified for, and that the language in job descriptions can influence the pool of applicants. We’re also working on building partnerships with schools, associations, and coding programs to encourage applicants beyond the usual pool. It’s our job to find diverse candidates instead of just expecting them to apply. That starts with your employer brand, so put a plan in place to build the relationships and awareness within marginalized communities that means your pipeline — and by extension your team page — isn’t full of people who look the same.

No one is demanding perfection, they’re demanding a willingness and commitment to change. We sure aren’t perfect at Willful. Don’t be afraid to speak up, take small steps, and commit to this being a process — the success of your business depends on it.

Erin Bury is the CEO at willful.co, an estate planning startup that provides an affordable, convenient, and easy way for Canadians to make a will online. Willful works with financial planners across Canada to help their clients get a solid estate plan in place.

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