PANC 2022: DEI at Work

Advisers share insights about how they are changing the composition of their firms—from entry-level positions to senior management—to better reflect the demographics of the U.S.

The first day of the 2022 PLANADVISER National Conference featured an in-depth panel discussion about the need to improve the diversity of the financial adviser industry in the U.S.

The three advisers on the panel were Dan Becraft, an executive director at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management; Lisa Garcia, a retirement plan consultant with SageView Advisory Group; and Deena Rini, vice president and practice leader of the retirement plan division at Oswald Financial.

Becraft, Garcia and Rini discussed the financial services industry’s diversity problem and shared suggestions for creating more equitable and fair workplaces. The trio agreed that one of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the homogeny of its work force. While the range of clients that advisers serve is diverse and growing, with constantly evolving wants and needs, the demographics within the industry are not keeping pace.

The panel agreed that rapidly growing the number of retirement plan managers with different life experiences, backgrounds and beliefs is necessary to best serve all clients. They also agreed that a major obstacle to achieving better diversity, equity and inclusion is the disconnect between entry-level positions and hiring practices and promotion and leadership demographics. Accordingly, the advisers noted that their firms’ efforts in DEI are dedicated to changing the composition of management as well as staff, and to ensuring that promotion practices are fair and equitable.

Becraft’s practice, for example, takes a three-step approach when addressing the lack of diversity.

“First, I believe empowerment is necessary,” he said. “Individuals must feel confident in their abilities and know that I am also confident in what they can achieve. This empowerment is ingrained in my team’s culture. The second step is delegation. I delegate work to my team members befitting their skills and goals. I want to provide my team members with positive challenges and opportunities to learn and grow across the field. The third step is championing. Each of my team members is invaluable in the work they do and what they bring to the team. If an individual wants to pursue career advancement, professional goals, new opportunities, etc., it is my responsibility to champion them as best I can.”

Garcia said SageView shares a similar philosophy and approach, and she noted that the benefits an equitable and inclusive culture bring to a firm and its people are incomparable.

“An equitable and inclusive culture provides individuals with a sense of belonging and respect, which turns into joy at work,” Garcia said. “To enjoy the work one does, alongside with a team and organization that values you as an individual, makes an impactful difference.”

Rini emphasized the importance of including DEI objectives in strategic planning and ensuring that there is meaningful executive and senior leadership buy-in from the beginning. In Oswald’s case, the firm established a DEI Alliance Advisory Committee that would be the entity of accountability and act as a think tank of strategic and measurable goals for the organization.

“Our goals are generated directly from Oswald employees aligning with the areas of focus given by our strategic plan,” she explained. “Our goals aim to make inclusive and equitable impact throughout the organization. Our Alliance is made up of 21 diverse perspectives of employee-owners of various backgrounds, identities, tenures and departments. Our goal is to be transparent, outcomes- and impact-oriented and sustainable with our actions as we embed DEI in everything Oswald does.”

The panel concluded that one of the top benefits of an equitable and inclusive firm culture is a sense of belonging in the workplace. Employees can feel safe, seen, heard and valued, which drives engagement and loyalty to an organization.