It is winter 1997 and I’m a high school senior. It was such an exciting time for me, as I was about to make one of my first “grown up” decisions—where to attend college. Do I attend a predominately white institution (PWI), like most of my friends, or do I select a historically black college and university (HBCU)? After visiting North Carolina and A&T State University, the decision was easy. HBCU it was!

My first months at A&T were a bit of a culture shock. In high school, I was used to being the only, or one of two, black people in my Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. It was my norm, at the time, and I do not think it impacted me much one way or the other. It just was what it was. But at A&T, I was in a cocoon of brilliant professors and sharp students who mostly looked like me. I was surrounded by love and encouragement, and it was drilled into me that I would be successful and expected to help nurture/mentor future students.

Fast forward to April 2006. I decided to dip my toe in financial services and joined E*Trade Financial as a customer service representative. I was given the opportunity to earn my Series 7 & 63 Finra licenses and was quickly promoted to the training and development department. Here, I was introduced to my first mentor, Jason, though we did not officially call our connection a mentor/mentee one. One day he said, “Aiyisha, you need to get your Series 24 and 4. You’re a trainer and it isn’t a good look for you to only have the licenses you’re training your class to get. You should lead by example.” I had an “aha” moment and immediately obtained both additional licenses. I have a total of six today.

This is just one example of how a mentor influenced my journey. I have no doubt that I am where I am today because I’ve had phenomenal mentors and sponsors throughout my career.

And we need more in our industry and at our firms for so many reasons. Mentorship plays a critical role in both attracting and developing talent, especially in underrepresented groups, according to data from Nationwide’s R.I.S.E. Research (Source: Research for Action (2019) “Nationwide Potential Advisors: HBCU Student Perceptions of the Field of Financial Planning and Factors that Influence Student Career Choice”). The study found that mentors are widely believed to be an essential component for professional development, with 85% of black advisors agreeing that their mentor was important to their success.

As an HBCU graduate, I know firsthand how mentorship can aid in accelerating a career. This is why I am excited to serve as an inaugural mentor for The Financial Alliance for Racial Equity (FARE) and support their new HBCU Mentorship Program, launched in February 2023 to align with Black History Month. The program aims to support black students and young professionals with career growth advice and professional development opportunities.

In the spring of 2022, several HR, talent acquisition and DE&I subject matter experts from FARE member firms, including Advisor Group, Franklin Templeton, M Financial, Nationwide, NFP, DCIIA, American Retirement Association and The American College of Financial Services brainstormed what a best-in-class mentorship program could look like based on their own learnings and firm experiences. Through structured 1-to-3 mentorship circles and focused, industry-relevant content, FARE’s HBCU mentorship program will serve as a free industry best practice and practical guide to elevate awareness in the financial services industry and will eventually be available to any firm or individual.

Since the program’s kickoff, we paired 25-30 HBCU students with FARE mentors who are mid- to senior-level leaders. The astute and impressive students brought so much energy to the inaugural virtual meeting. My favorite part was looking at the faces of the mentors as they interacted with the students. Every single hand-picked mentor had a look of immense pride. It was like they were looking at their young and eager selves 15-20 years ago. The program participants are eager to succeed as most of them joined while at work or on a city bus headed to work while on this evening call.

Proper mentorship can have a significant impact on the psychology and confidence level of underrepresented groups. Just knowing that I have a hand in shaping a young person’s career and can help them navigate the corporate world is a thrill for me. It is my hope that through my example, my mentees will see that servant leadership benefits them, their teams and the organizations they serve.

Think about becoming involved. The next generation of diverse talent is waiting.

Aiyisha Adams, MBA, CRPC, is vice president of Advisor Engagement, Advisor Group and HBCU Alumna.