George Floyd, a black man lying on his stomach with his hands handcuffed behind him, was killed by a white police officer kneeling on his throat for nine minutes. There is irrefutable statistical evidence that people of color face proportionately more police brutality than their white counterparts. But imbalance exists more than in the criminal justice system.

I have been better than I would have expected at not seeing what is in front of me. The fact that George Floyd’s killing occurred blocks from the Minneapolis home in which we raised our family literally brought the issue close to home. But I have seen the imbalance firsthand, and as someone who has been actively involved for over 30 years in various leadership positions in the profession, I have played a role.

Don’t let the sleight of hand of destruction from the protesting or Floyd’s personal background take our eyes off the real issue. In our industry, we have, I have, lacked what it takes to create systemic change.

I have heard people say that this is a white industry, as if that is an excuse for why we are underrepresented by people of color. The reason it is a white industry is that barriers of entry are created for those different than us. My leadership roles generally came about because people who looked like me asked me to get involved. I perpetuated this by supporting others similar to me. I don’t know if I did this unwittingly or subconsciously, but neither serves as an adequate excuse.

We can’t say we can do better. We have to simply do better. We can’t just throw money at the issue, although that is a start. Money assuages our guilt but does not help us walk next to those who have been harmed.

After George Floyd was killed, our executive team met to decide what our course of action needed to be. We shared it internally with our staff, but we didn’t post it on our website or send it to clients because we didn’t want it to become a marketing piece, and more important, less than 5% of our staff are people of color. What is there to be proud of?

When we talk about hiring for firm culture and using an outside psychologist to test for traits in our future employees, we are most likely screening out candidates with different shared experiences than ours. This is hard to gauge since we rarely get those candidates. We don’t go to recruit at black colleges, we haven’t sought internships specifically for people of color, and we haven’t hired recruiters specializing in these candidates. We didn’t do it maliciously; we just didn’t pay attention to it. It’s time for all of us to pay attention.

The CFP Board of Standards has recognized this problem. In its paper “Racial Diversity in Financial Planning,” published in 2018, the board pointed out that in 2017, less than 3.5% of 70,000 CFP professionals were Black or Latino, even though they represent 30% of our U.S. population. The paper points to many reasons why this may be so and provides some suggestions for solutions to the problem. It is a great start.

But even providing mentorships, scholarship programs and commitments to diversity is only the beginning. We have to understand how our firm cultures of which we are so proud may inhibit diversity. We have to pay attention to the implicit biases that frame our practices. And we have to become comfortable with discomfort. Our businesses are often reflections of ourselves. Isn’t that the problem?

George Floyd, a black man lying on his stomach with his hands handcuffed behind him, was killed by a white police officer kneeling on his throat for nine minutes. This is an obvious travesty of justice. But what are the more subtle ones for which we are responsible?        

Ross Levin, CFP, is the founder and chief executive officer of Accredited Investors in Edina, Minn. He can be reached at [email protected].

 

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