To Have Honest Conversations about Diversity: Learn some History and Get Comfortable with Discomfort


Phuong Luong’s family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in the 1980s without much in the way of savings. Her family was considered low-income.

As the career changer, who was formerly a math and special education teacher, studied for her CFP® certification exam, she oftentimes had to pause and reflect, thinking to herself, “Oh, that’s how they did it.” Referring to the populations who had built wealth.

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Luong, CFP®, the founder and financial planner at Just Wealth, LLC and a 2014 Financial Planning Association Diversity Scholarship winner, was recently interviewed on the 2050 TrailBlazers podcast by fellow 2014 FPA Diversity Scholarship winner Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP®.

“My biggest a-ha moment was reading about the tax exemption that homeowners get on the appreciation of your home,” Luong said, referring to the tax laws that were in effect when she was studying for her exam.

She never knew about this because her family had always rented homes in New York City. Another a-ha moment came when she learned about homeownership exclusion, where in the 1940s and 1950s American families were able to build wealth through homeownership. This perpetuated the already wide racial wealth gap because only 1 to 2 percent of all mortgages taken out during that time were done so by people of color.

“It came as a shock to me a few years ago when I learned about this,” Luong told Dorsainvil. “I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know about this until I had already graduated from college.”

Learning about these things and reflecting on her experience as a math and special education teacher to students of color, Luong realized that communities of color face certain challenges when it comes to education and building wealth.

“It lit so much fire in me,” Luong told Dorsainvil. “I just saw it on paper how concrete, how systematic and how structural the issues really are.”

Knowing certain aspects of history regarding communities of color is imperative to serving and working with them.

“I think once financial planners—once all of us know and agree on the history—we can be really powerful in changing the system,” Luong said.

Luong addressed several historical issues that played a part in hindering wealth-building in minority communities. The first of which was redlining, which refers to the practice of color coding neighborhoods to indicate their desirability for purchasing homes, from green (the best) to red (hazardous). The redline areas were considered credit risks and were oftentimes minority neighborhoods.

“These are facts,” Dorsainvil said in the episode. “This is not an opinion.”

Be Specific, Despite Discomfort

In order to have more authentic conversations about diversity in your firms, it’s imperative to be more direct.

Luong said the word “diversity” itself can cause a spike in people’s stress levels—both for minority and majority groups. It’s uncomfortable. People of color feel uncomfortable saying, “white” and white people feel uncomfortable saying “black” or “Latino” or “Asian.” As a result, diversity has become a catch-all word that despite its best efforts still makes people stressed.

“We’re using coded language to talk about issues that are really hard to talk about,” Luong said.

So, Luong said, instead of saying “diverse people,” say the actual words that people use to identify themselves, and if you don’t know, ask.

“If we’re going to move this needle forward and make any type of change and not just be talk or ceremonial … we have to be comfortable with being in a very uncomfortable state for a while,” Dorsainvil said.

What Is Code-Switching?

Imagine having to change your tone of voice, the vocabulary you use, the volume at which you speak, the accent you normally speak in for eight to 12 or however many hours you work per day. That is the reality of many people of color in this country. It’s called code-switching.

In an attempt to not be judged, stereotyped, or let people see that they’re uncomfortable because they’re the only black, brown, Asian or LGBTQ individual in the room, oftentimes minorities leave their true selves at home and code-switch.

Both Dorsainvil and Luong said it’s an exhausting practice.

“I’ve mastered code-switching in the sense that you will never know that I’m uncomfortable,” Dorsainvil said.

What can help with this is to become a welcoming ally for people of color in your firm, at conferences and in other professional settings. Make your firm a safe space to talk openly and honestly about race and listen to your colleagues and clients of color. Because, Dorsainvil said, when it comes to authentically increasing diversity, “We need more than just people of color doing something about it.”

Why Is This Issue Important?

By the year 2050, what are considered minority groups today are projected to become the majority. Numerous studies show that authentically recruiting and retaining people from different backgrounds with unique perspectives helps companies’ bottom lines.

Dr. Brenda J. Allen, vice-chancellor of diversity and inclusion at University of Colorado Denver, writes in her book Difference Matters that “Organizations that embrace/support racial diversity can reap numerous rewards, including enhanced co-cultural interactions, decreased complaints and lawsuits, less turnover, increased innovation, greater market performance, and improved productivity.”

Dorsainvil reports from a recently released press release from CFP Board that just over 3 percent of all CFP® professionals are people of color. And if the world is poised to change so drastically by 2050, the profession will benefit from recruiting and retaining professionals of color as well as learning how to serve these communities.

About the 2050 TrailBlazers Podcast

Dorsainvil began streaming episodes of 2050 TrailBlazers in March 2018. FPA is one of the sponsors of the podcast that is sparking conversation on diversity and inclusion in the financial planning profession and attempting to address issues of recruitment and retention of professionals of color.

This podcast highlights ways to increase diversity in the financial planning profession. Listen to the podcasts during your commute and check out the show notes for more information about the people and topics covered. Subscribe on iTunes and Google Play or visit the website.

Interested in the FPA Diversity Scholarship? Apply today to be considered.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.



2 thoughts on “To Have Honest Conversations about Diversity: Learn some History and Get Comfortable with Discomfort

  1. Thank you. I appreciate your voice in this matter.

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