When Sonya Dreizler was the CEO of an RIA and broker-dealer hybrid, she was relatively young for that role, she said, plus she was a woman. So many of her older, male colleagues continued to test her and question whether she was right for the position long after she had already proven herself.
“I got a lot of that from people who didn’t think I was old enough or qualified enough or male enough,” Dreizler said in a recent 2050 TrailBlazers podcast with Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP®, and Arlene Donley Moss. “You spend so much time proving yourself when you could just be working. It’s such a strain on your resources as a productive employee.”
Whether we admit it, we all have implicit biases like thinking women or people of color are less capable or deserving of their positions of power. But we can all utilize whatever privilege we have at our disposal to help dispel implicit biases that stand in the way of an inclusive profession.
That’s what Dreizler and Moss have begun doing in their lives thanks to personal and professional experiences. They recently shared tips with Dorsainvil on what they’ve learned to help make the profession more inclusive.
Acknowledge mistakes. Moss admitted that she doesn’t always get it right, and that’s OK. She had one such experience at a recent conference. Though she didn’t dive too deep into the story, she acknowledged she’d inadvertently made a man feel uncomfortable because, as a friend pointed out, she’d engaged in “casual racism.” She hadn’t meant to.
“It is embarrassing to admit, but I flailed and stumbled and felt horrible,” Moss said. She reached out to the person she’d offended and apologized. They had a great discussion.
Moss grew up in a family that didn’t see color, she said, and sometimes implicit biases come up that can be perceived as “casual racism.”
“All of a sudden they pop up and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, that just happened,’ and you have to acknowledge it and fix it,” Moss said.
See and appreciate color. Oftentimes people say, “I don’t see color,” or “Why do you have to make everything about race?” But for people of color, race is ingrained in everything.
“To say you don’t see color is so dismissive,” Moss said. “It’s putting the blinders on and pretending that this huge element of a person’s humanity isn’t even there.”
So, Moss tries to get away from that. Telling people, you don’t see color isn’t the way to make the newcomers from different backgrounds feel welcome in the profession. What is, Dorsainvil said, is surprisingly simple.
“Just make eye contact and smile,” Dorsainvil said, on how to make somebody who is clearly not comfortable or perhaps the only person from his or her ethnic background in the room. “Just go and have a conversation.” Unsure how to do that? Compliments help, she said.
Don’t tell them, “I’m not a racist,” or “I’m an ally,” Dorsainvil added. Just be empathetic and make them feel comfortable. Be their ally if something does happen.
Try being the “only” in a group once. Moss recently traveled to Paris. She and her family went to see an out-of-the-way cathedral and ventured into the surrounding area to see what shops and restaurants they could uncover. There was nothing open as it was Ramadan and the business owners in the Muslim neighborhood were likely observing it. So they chose to explore another neighborhood where primarily West African immigrants lived.
“We stuck out so very, very much,” Moss said. “We are not just white, we’re white Americans. And you can pretend that you’re not looking like an American, but you do.”
They continued to walk and though they were left in peace and were not in danger, Moss felt tired.
“About an hour in I just looked at my husband and said, ‘I’m really tired of being looked at. Can we just head back?’” Moss recalled. “The unspoken part of that ‘head back’ sentence was ‘to the white parts.’ All of sudden, I had that ‘Oh my gosh, this is what it’s like every flipping day’” for a person of color.
That experience gave her an added layer of empathy and a desire to be an even bigger ally.
Share the message with people who look like you. There’s likely no changing some people’s minds when it comes to diversity and inclusion. If so, then these podcasts and blog posts are not for you. However, there are people out there who can be convinced, and perhaps it takes somebody who looks like them to do the convincing.
Recently at a dinner, a white man said to me, “Arguably, I can do more to advance the cause of diversity and inclusion than you can.” I didn’t even try to argue, because I know this to be true.
Dreizler said that she first got involved with racial justice and diversity issues after hearing about them from another white woman.
“Why wasn’t I hearing that message from people of color? I mean, we could unpack that all day, like maybe I didn’t have a very good circle of contacts then or maybe I was just more likely to be receptive to a message if the messenger is someone who looks like me,” Dreizler said. “Now I’m just happy to be that for other white people.”
Helping each other feel included isn’t going to be smooth sailing.
“We’re going to make mistakes but let’s embrace them together and stumble together,” Dorsainvil said.