Corporate America is full of pledges to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But many financial advisors say financial planning firms could do a lot better.

“Most companies have historically focused on the diversity part of DEI. What they’re missing are the equity and inclusion parts,” said Kevin Keller, CEO of the CFP Board, the industry organization for financial planners in the U.S., in an interview following the CFP Board’s Diversity Summit in Washington, D.C., earlier this fall.

Focusing on equity, he said, means providing the right support for each team member, whether through mentoring, training or providing business-development opportunities. Focusing on inclusion means empowering women and minority personnel by giving them “a seat at the table,” he said.

The CFP Board is dedicated to setting industry standards, in part by certifying some 93,000 certified financial planners across the U.S., according to its website. The Diversity Summit was under the auspices of its Center for Financial Planning, which has a mission to advance diversity and equity in the profession.

“By fully focusing on all three aspects of DEI—diversity, equity and inclusion—an organization can increase its diverse talent pipeline and retain those talented individuals,” Keller added.

Kamila Elliot, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Collective Wealth Partners, a majority women- and Black-owned wealth management firm that, according to its website, supports the creation of wealth for Black and other minority communities, said that few firms that talk about DEI actually have a plan for implementation.

“The key is treating diversity, equity and inclusion goals the same as all other business goals,” said Elliot, who is also the CFP Board’s first Black female chairperson. “DEI goals are imperative to long-term business goals and should have the same level of intention and accountability, with a results-driven approach.”

She explained that DEI should transition from an idealistic vision to a “business imperative.” She would like to see RIAs, asset managers and all other financial firms share their organization-wide diversity statistics, goals, benchmarks and time horizons for meeting those benchmarks.

“Organizations often are not transparent,” she said, about how well their recruitment, hiring and promotion practices "reflect the communities in which they operate.”

Improving representation among women and minorities must happen at every step and level of the organization—from trainees to team leaders to the C-suite.

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