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Why Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Are Vital to Building Your Practice

Conferences & Events

Whether it’s building a more diverse workforce or diversifying your customer base, those businesses that prioritize diversity and inclusivity in the workplace hold a distinct advantage, according to a Sept. 9 workshop session at the 2020 NAPA Cyber Summit. 

Moderated by Jon Anderson, head of Retirement Plan Solutions at Cetera Financial Group, the workshop, “Best Practices: How to Attract, Keep, and Develop a Unique and Diverse Workforce,” featured: 

  • Michael Andeberhan, Executive Director, Relationship Manager at MSCI;
  • Lisa Coleman, Senior Vice President, Global Inclusion and Strategic Innovation at New York University;
  • Jenna Filipkowski, Senior Vice President of Research and Development, Talent Development, Senior Research Analyst at Human Capital Institute; and 
  • Laraine McKinnon, Founder of LMC17. 

The panelists offered their perspectives on how diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has affected them personally and the impact DEI can have on your business, and shared best practices on how to attract and keep a unique and diverse workforce, particularly in today’s challenging times. 

Noting that he was born in Eritrea and came to the U.S. as an immigrant, Michael Andeberhan explained that diversity and inclusion embodies everything that he does, because as an immigrant, he had a lot of opportunities to advance both educationally as well as professionally, but as a black man in a predominantly non-diverse industry, he’s basically had to spend his entire career being an outsider. 

Similarly, Lisa Coleman noted that she grew up outside of one of the most segregated cities in the United States but in an extremely multicultural neighborhood that helped her become adept at dealing with multicultural environments. “And what we know about people educated in multicultural and diverse environments is they actually are very nimble, very flexible, able to deal with complexity in ways that perhaps others aren’t,” she explained. “And so, for me, diversity inclusion and equity are all about the assets and about the strengths that we can leverage from diverse ideas, diverse backgrounds and diverse people.”

Echoing Coleman, Filipkowski noted that “when our workplaces are inclusive, diverse and equitable, and have feelings of belonging, we all benefit in terms of innovation in terms of our engagement performance.”

As for what DEI means, McKinnon explained that to her, “it’s when and how you bring together the very best talent, which, by definition, is people who have different perspectives and you help them to do their very best work and be recognized for the work that they do.” McKinnon adds that “when companies can get in it, there’s tons of productivity, a ton of innovation and better profitability.” 

Changing the Business Environment

When asked what is being done today to help improve the DEI environment, Andeberhan believes there’s been a lot of progress in getting more women into the industry, but added that he can count on one hand the number of black CEOs in the S&P 500 and that only 30 are women, which suggests there plenty of room to grow in terms of both racial and gender diversity. 

“I think one of the big noteworthy themes from the historic nomination of Kamala Harris is that she’s a woman who graduated from a historically black college or university and she’s an immigrant of Jamaican and Indian descent, and so I think we’re seeing a lot of progress,” he explained. Still, he noted that if companies are not making an active effort to recruit and retain diverse candidates for employment, it won’t happen organically.

To that point, McKinnon noted that she’s seeing a lot more being done on the recruiting side, such as going to the historically black colleges and universities, making sure that there are broader lists of candidates being considered, and making sure there are structured interviews and proper questions are being asked. 

McKinnon also noted that additional research is being done to assess what’s happening with minority employees dropping out of the industry and not progressing further in their careers. She suggested that financial services firms would benefit from participating in that type of research to get a better understanding of the data. For example, she inquired, what’s happening to Latinas and Asian women as they seek to progress in their careers—where are they dropping out and why?

Drawing on McKinnon’s comments, Coleman noted in gauging those analytics, it’s important to gather metrics across categories and how those analytics are then used to frame the work, whether it’s with leadership, pipeline development or outreach and programs. 

The DEI/ESG Connection

Asked about the importance of DEI from a broader industry perspective, Andeberhan explained that the social pillar part of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing really focuses on how you treat your employees and your customers. This, he noted, is becoming extremely important from an investment perspective, as evidence suggests that everyone from large institutional investors to Millennials who are coming into wealth want to incorporate these social values into their investments. 

To that point, Coleman emphasized that while many focus on Millennials, the upcoming generations, including Gen Z and Alphas, care a great deal about diversity and inclusion, and if your company doesn’t care about DEI, they’ll leave your company and start their own business because they’re incredibly entrepreneurial. “And so, I think for the small business owner, you have to think about the future,” she suggested. 

“I think that there are so many different ways of thinking about growing your business and what’s going to be additive to your business growth and certainly the diversity of your customer base is having people who understand and can connect with your customers broadly—whether that's somebody who’s different from your customer who helps them see things a different way, or somebody that your customer feels like they can trust because there’s someone who has a similar background or who has similar situation to them,” McKinnon added.