It was the FPA annual conference in Nashville in 2006. Lee Baker, CFP®, counted maybe 30 other African American attendees out of around 3,000.
In one intimate conference session, Baker, who said he was in a good—but flippant mood—said to the group: “My name is Lee. I’m from Georgia and from the looks of things I’m here to add a little color to the conversation.”
This sparked a few nervous chuckles. After the session, Ed Gjertsen, CFP®, walked over to him and the pair struck up a conversation about the lack of diversity at that conference and in the profession.
Signs depicting diverse people—Black, Asian, Latino—were posted up around the meeting space with the message, “We are FPA.”
The pair approached a then-staff member and told her that the signs represented where FPA aspires to be, but not where we are.
Gjertsen and Baker connected with Trudy Turner and formed what would in 2007 become the FPA Diversity Task Force in the hopes that one day it would become a permanent committee.
“Part of our thought process was, let’s make this part of our DNA and part of our infrastructure,” Baker said.
Later in 2007, the task force organized the inaugural invitation-only Diversity Summit pre-conference to the FPA Annual Conference.
In 2008, the task force established the Diversity Scholarship. The next year, it officially became the FPA Diversity Committee, chaired today by Charles Adi, CFP®, and later in 2009 created and adopted the FPA Diversity Statement.
Turner grew up in the FPA, she said, being a member before FPA was FPA (back before the merger). Turner recalled during her time at FPA Residency in Denver, the late Dick Wagner came up to her and asked, “Where are the rest of the people who look like you?”
“I so appreciated and have always appreciated that,” Turner said. “Dick was always so good at encouraging, supporting and challenging people to make this a better profession.”
It is people like Wagner and like Louis Barajas, EA, CFP®, who paved the way, Turner said.
Barajas said that he’d been talking about diversity since before his time on the FPA Board, which started in 2004.
“I started paying attention to the demographics and realized how fast we were growing and saw what the needs were,” Barajas said. “I felt like I was just talking and what I was saying was going in one ear and out the other.”
Turner heard him.
“I credit and stand on the shoulders of people in FPA who were beating the drum but weren’t getting anywhere,” Turner said. “I stand on the shoulders of Dick Wagner, I stand on the shoulders of Louis Barajas, who were talking about diversity, but it wasn’t going anywhere.”
Renewed Commitment to Diversity
In the past few years, the profession has seen a renewed interest in increasing diversity in the profession, an interest Turner said FPA has always had.
“FPA has very much been at the forefront,” when it comes to diversity and inclusion work, she said. This interest manifested in strategic partnerships with Quad-A and PridePlanners, which have both had pre-conference events to FPA’s Annual Conference.
So far in 2019, FPA launched the FPA Latino Knowledge Circle, a community for Latino financial planners to engage in professional development and networking, thanks to the help of Barajas. Along with partner CFP Board, FPA launched the Dick Wagner Scholarship. Lastly, FPA’s membership publication, the Journal of Financial Planning, had its first-ever diversity issue this month.
The early contributors to the Diversity Task Force and later Diversity Committee have said they are proud of the work FPA has done in this realm.
When Turner looks at what has come out of the diversity task force, it’s almost like she’s a proud mom, she said.
“I think the single best thing that we did was create the Diversity Scholarship,” Turner said. “When you see the talent that has come about—when you see Rianka [Dorsainvil], when you see Lazetta [Rainey Braxton], when you see Marguerita [Chang], those are diversity winners and they have come into the profession and started engaging.”
The scholarship, which includes one free conference admission, one-year membership dues, one-year chapter meeting fees, and support to thrive personally and professionally at FPA, has been awarded to 42 individuals.
Looking to the Future: What Can You Do?
The time of the frustrating “business case for diversity” conversation is gone. Now is the time for action. Oftentimes people ask, why care about diversity? For people of color, there is no choice but to care about it.
“When you’re born into things, you don’t have the luxury to sit back and go, ‘I wonder if that’s important?’” Turner said. “I am a person of color. I am a woman and it’s always been important for me.”
And it appears as though it’s becoming important to others and that people are listening.
“We’re talking honestly about [diversity] now,” said Saundra Davis, MSFP, APFC®, FBS®. “We’re not tip-toeing around it anymore, it’s not filtered conversation anymore.”
Also, Turner added, “People are listening.” However, the problem of genuine inclusion and implementation remain.
Focus on human resources.
Turner said this is the biggest area we should be focusing on. A strong human resources team can help retain talent. Good HR professionals versed in diversity can help foster a culture of genuine inclusion.
Ensure you are recruiting diverse candidates.
The excuse that you can’t find qualified candidates of color is outdated. They’re out there. And they’re highly qualified. You just have to know where to look, where to post your job descriptions and how to write those job descriptions to attract them.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
People in the profession want to move the needle on diversity, Gjertsen said, but oftentimes they don’t want to say something offensive or be uncomfortable.
“That is one of the elements that is truly challenging for those not engaging,” Gjertsen said.
For Gjertsen, it wasn’t always the most comfortable thing to try to talk about diversity with people from underrepresented groups, however he got comfortable with being uncomfortable and his colleagues gave him grace, he said.
Listen to employees of marginalized communities.
If you don’t have the human resources in place, and an employee tells you about something, believe them and work to make their environment a safe space.
Work to fix the problem.
Doing exit interviews with diverse employees who leave your firm or company can help unearth some issues. Identify those and work to address them.
Advice for Planners
For planners from underrepresented groups, a few bits of advice stood out in our interviews:
Pause your movie.
Baker thought back to that conference in 2006. Though he said he never felt anybody treated him differently, there is still a truth as a person from a marginalized group any time you are in a space with thousands of people from the majority group: It’s lonely. There is a movie playing in your head about why people are not engaging with you, Baker said.
“You have to navigate that dynamic that says, ‘Am I being ignored because I’m Black or am I being ignored because they don’t care?’” Baker explained.
Represent. Another truth people from marginalized communities realize is that when they are at events, they aren’t just representing themselves, but also their groups. For instance, Baker said, recalling a conversation he had with Dick Wagner, if he were to have a few too many drinks at Annual Conference, it might lead to people judging his entire ethnic group.
“There’s a kind of pressure for me—not that it’s intentional—but if I screw something up, it is not Lee did this, it becomes they did this,” Baker said.
Make the most of your memberships. Baker said to take advantage of what’s available to you. Apply for the scholarships, join the webinars, attend local meetings and go to the conferences.
“It’s expensive to take days, hop on a plane, but it’s incredibly important to your future,” Baker said.
Find what Davis calls safe and sacred spaces to participate—whether that be Quad-A, PridePlanners or FPA Latino—and make them your own.
Don’t be afraid to make space if you can’t find it.
Davis said there are so many firm owners of diverse backgrounds because sometimes they can’t find their space in more established firms.
“People come in and they have high hopes,” Davis explained. “They’re welcomed at the beginning, but as soon as the microaggressions kick in, they try to talk about it,” but oftentimes they are not heard or helped.
Davis said that she didn’t do the work she did in this arena for minority professionals to not show up in this profession as themselves.
“We shouldn’t have to not be ourselves to fit in,” Davis said. “We are equally as competent and sometimes even more so. Don’t think for one minute you’re not doing something significant.”