Fellicia Foster – I’ve often times heard people say diversity is when you’re invited to the dance floor, but inclusion is when you have the option to choose what’s on the play list. It’s more or less you’re here, that’s the diversity, you’re here. But the inclusion is, do I feel like I can engage, do I feel like I can be a part of this conversation. Do I feel like my voice can be heard? Do I feel that I can contribute at the same level as the others that are in the room, that may not look like me, act like me, think like me. When you are able to bring your whole self and be your authentic self, walking in the door to your workplace, there’s a lot of energy that you can bring to what you contribute. When you don’t and you feel as though I have to hold back, I have to cover, I have to act like someone I’m not because I have to assimilate into an environment, that’s a lot of energy to try to then take back, be somebody else, and then contribute at the same capacity of my peers. And so for me, in my perspective, it’s more or less when someone has to do that, they’re not in an environment where they can be their authentic self to contribute the same way, they’re not giving their all because a lot of their energy is driven on being someone else. They’re not contributing to the highest level of productivity and engagement because I’m using a portion of my energy to be someone else. So, it’s a matter of when you think about creating high capacity, high performance, strong engagement with all of the individuals on your team, you want all of that energy to drive to high performance teams. And so, allowing people to be their authentic selves and having conversations around what that even looks like a safe environment will, I think, enhance the level of productivity on certain teams.
Emily Larsen – We’re talking about high performing teams. Every financial advisor is interested in being a high performer and on a high performing team. We want to create this environment where everyone can bring their whole selves to work, and it’s an inclusive environment made up of diverse people. How do we create that environment and do minds need to shift to create that environment?
Fellicia Foster – Minds do need to shift. Because I think a lot of times, people want to ask questions for understanding purposes and they may feel as though if I ask this question, I don’t think I’m going to offend. I don’t know if I’m going to get reported. There’s a lot of fear in having open, courageous conversations, just to understand. So, from my perspective, the first step may very well be seeking out to understand by asking questions. And allowing people to feel comfortable asking questions. One of the things that I’ve actually proposed and I’ve heard this from another company that has done it before is a day of understanding. This day of understanding is more so focused around not trying to solve anything, not trying to bash out any managers, not trying to call out any particular race, gender, sexual orientation or anything. But more so focused around what impacts you on a day to day basis that causes you to be a certain way in how you show up when you walk in the door. Certain companies do it differently. One day of understanding had been a day of ongoing conversations, and each conversation is dedicated to a specific segment. One hour is dedicated to women, the next hour is dedicated to people of color, the next is LGBTQ, the next is military veterans, and persons with disabilities. Then that day of just having open conversations and dialogue quite honestly can be a little exhausting and a bit emotional and things like that. But, when people walked away, and again, this is from me hearing about the experiences, when they walked away, they were like, that was the most insightful thing. And crazily enough, even though I’m not a part of that segment, I experienced some of those things, too. So an example of that would be I don’t feel comfortable talking to my manager about the fact that I want to have a child with my husband but I feel as though he may look at me differently and not feel as though I’m going to contribute 100% simply because I now want to have a family. That’s not something you need to solve for, per se, but more or less as a manager, as a leader, as peers, as colleagues, to understand certain situations that occur in our lives every day that you don’t see when we walk in the door. We don’t often times bring up but if you know, it creates a level of understanding, it creates a level of empathy. And when you think about leadership core competencies and things like that, that empathy and understanding is really helpful in building stronger teams, and helping to bring diversity together. Diversity without being managed appropriately could cause conflict. When you do manage it appropriately, when you do have empathy and you are able to understand and engage, and bring out the best of your talent, that’s when it comes together as a cohesive unit to be that high performing team.
Ben Jones – I really like the day of understanding concept. It’s an actual idea which you could easily implement. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The reason why effort is needed around understanding the life experiences of underrepresented groups is that our industry itself is not very diverse. Sometimes, these conversations can feel a bit tricky to approach when you come from a different set of life experiences or world view. Most of us have the best of intentions when it comes to diversity and inclusion. But we’re also unsure how to proceed and how these changes may affect us.
Emily Larsen – The average age of a financial advisor is somewhere around 59. It’s predominantly Caucasian males. What can we do in order to not have that audience feel threatened by this conversation? I’ve heard people say it’s not my time, I won’t get the promotion, I am not a this gender, I am not a this heritage, whatever. And I think that there is a feeling of being threatened. How do we overcome that to help that group be inclusive, and help them culminate the right culture and understand the value in this?
Fellicia Foster – This may sound kind of controversial, but I’m going to just say it. They need to be a part of the conversation. It’s almost as if we’re talking about inclusion but we’re excluding white men in the conversation. When you’re excluding them, it’s very hard for them to champion it. Right? It’s not to say that we’re still not going to focus on what we’re focusing on, but how do we get them to feel safe at one, expressing their concerns. It’s a big change for them. They have real concerns. If we’re not talking about those and allowing the safe space to talk about them, but also to say I get it, I hear you. But here’s why we need to go in this direction. Because the reality is, the world is changing. Customers and talent are expecting us to change and to be diverse, and to be inclusive, and to ensure people feel like they belong, and to fight for causes, and to have a voice about things that matter to them. That connects back to their values and if we can’t align ourselves to that, we’re going to miss the mark on developing new customers, and we’re going to miss the mark on bringing in innovative and new perspectives with talent. With that, I think it’s just a matter of bringing them into the conversation as they add the diversity unit you are too, a part of that table. We want your voices to be heard, but we also want you to understand the barriers that exist for those that are marginalized, and how we need to get over this hump. And how we all need to be allies for each other to ensure that we’re moving in the progressive direction to help our respective companies but also that maybe align to our own personal values.
Emily Larsen – We’ve already talked about why diversity and inclusion should be important to your firm so that your employees can feel like their authentic selves and so that you and your firm can better relate to customers. There’s also a strong case to be made for how managing a diverse practice will directly raise your bottom line.
Fellicia Foster – When I purchased my first home, I particularly wanted to work with a black mortgage officer, a black Realtor, a black — someone that looked like me. I wanted them to be a part of this process because I wanted to be open and honest, and candid, and my authentic self, and engaging. And I wanted them to feel the same way in response. And so, when you think about the other individuals, whether it’s a woman that wants to work with a woman because you know what I’m feeling, you know what I’m experiencing, things like that. All of those things are revenue generating type of opportunities that we could be missing out on because we don’t have the representation that is aligned to individuals that may be walking in the door that want to work with someone that identifies as them. We talk a lot about the feel good aspect of diversity and inclusion, like it’s the right thing to do. It feels good, why wouldn’t we, but it’s the business thing to do. When you think about how you can make money in spaces to which you don’t currently have access to, there’s a way to quantify that to really see how many households are in certain areas that we aren’t currently engaged in, simply because from a woman perspective — people of color, persons with disabilities, military veterans, all of those components, products and services that we may or may not offer to these certain groups that other companies are. We’re just missing the mark on.
Emily Larsen – My mother-in-law is a financial advisor but she was in the 80s and 90s and her portfolio was widowed women. They wanted to work with a woman because primarily their husbands had managed their financial portfolio and when they passed, they didn’t know what to do and they didn’t necessarily trust someone that didn’t look like them, and didn’t have their priorities. She built a beautiful book of business. This is not new, I guess, is my point. 20, 30 years ago, based on knowing that the customer wanted to see someone who looked like them.
Ben Jones – Now, let’s dive into some actionable ideas. Emily asked for advice on how you can lead effectively when inclusion is a priority for your business. Most of the time, the answer is not to focus on an employee’s group identity but to get to know them as individuals. This is not just a good practice for diversity and inclusion, you will always be a better manager when you can have close relationships with your employees and draw on their best qualities.
Emily Larsen – When you identify as a certain race, gender, sexual orientation, whether being disabled or not, in many cases, you try to connect yourself to people that connect with you. That’s how we make hiring decisions, that’s how we make promotion decisions. When you think about the relationships you build, and oh, I really like this person, or I really tolerate this person. Or, I don’t like this person because they’re too different, and I just don’t see them progressing. How you assess potential may or may not change in comparison to those that may not look like you, or act like you, or think like you. With that, when you think about the challenge that we face, we have to go beyond our comfort zone. We have to get out of the space of always having to engage with the folks that look, and think, and act like us, or have the same background as us. Because it hinders us from moving things forward in some instances, and again, bringing the teams together to be inclusive. Or even to ensure that your team feels like everyone belongs there. With that, the challenge is ensuring that our leaders are being held accountable for creating those inclusive environments with their team. And that they are assessing talent fairly and consistently, amongst all of the segments in their groups.
Emily Larsen – What type of support are you finding this leadership needs in order to do exactly what you described? Assess talent wisely; make sure they’re making decisions that are based on this diverse pool?
Fellicia Foster – Hiring practices like having a panel of folks that are diverse to some extent when you are making hiring decisions. Asking your recruiters for diverse leads. When you think about individuals on your team and think about how you assess talent and potential, have some open conversations and do some real uncomfortable things. I’m not saying do anything that’s just completely uncomfortable where you’re just moving away from who you are, but more or less; get to know the people that are just different from you. You may find that there is some commonalities, that they are similar to you in some instances. Conversation one, two ensure that they are included in the things that you are doing. And when I said included, not just from an events perspective or things which you’re trying to initiate with your team. When you’re in a meeting and someone on your team isn’t contributing, just call on somebody else sometimes. Say hey, I’m interested in your perspective. I want to know, did you have anything to add here. Because again, it’s including them into the conversation even when they may feel like they’re not. So when you practice those types of things where you’re consciously making an effort to bring people into the conversation that demonstrates that their valued to some extent. I will say in some instances, people are feeling like if they’re on the spot, they’re like wait a second, no, don’t. But in most cases, it does help to allow people to feel like oh, they do want my voice to be heard. And now I’ve actually got something to say.
Emily Larsen – Are there ways to enhance the work experience for all employees?
Fellicia Foster – I would say yes, but you only know how to do that if you know your people. It’s an individualized type of thing where everyone isn’t looking for more money, everyone isn’t looking for stretched opportunity. Everyone isn’t looking for education. But someone is. Each individual person may have their own unique aspirations, their own motivations and values associated with why they make their decisions in their roles, and how they move and navigate this environment. One, it’s if you know your people and really take time to ask questions around who they are, what do they aspire to do, how as a manager — how am I serving you. How do you even like to be led? That’s a conversation that you have with your employees to really understand who they are, how they contribute, how they show up, and what they bring to the table, and how you as a leader can bring that out of them. But again, that’s on an individual basis on how you can impact the workforce, the workplace to get people to perform at their highest capacity.
Emily Larsen – The conversation and the questions you just said just put me at ease. If anybody asked me those questions, it doesn’t matter who I am or who they are, that is a great piece of advice for our advisors. That’s where the conversation starts in a one-on-one conversation and those types of questions. That’s great. How else does communication need to evolve to ensure diverse teams can thrive?
Emily Larsen – Another question I ask my team, how do you like to receive feedback? My natural go-to is I’m direct, straight shooter, here you go, and in the moment. So there is no surprise as to what Fellicia is thinking, feeling, that doesn’t work for everybody. Some people like to have a little bit of finesse around it, and they go around in circles a little bit, and they go into it. But if you know your people to the point where it’s a matter of I know how to communicate to them because they’ve already informed me that they don’t typically like direct feedback and it puts them on guard, and they get nervous. They think that they need to start looking for another job because you presented an issue. To that extent, that’s one way, more so just asking questions around learning who they are, how they like to be communicated to and how they like to be engaged with, to really understand.
Emily Larsen – Like Ben said, the advice Fellicia is providing on how to enhance the work experience for all of your employees with communication and support is not exclusive to a D & I initiative. That’s why the ideal mind set for approaching diversity and inclusion is that these initiatives should work broadly, for everyone, all of the time. My next question for Fellicia was about resources and research on the topic. Her response tracks with this theme: Don’t get bogged down in the data. Just do what’s right for your people and your business. If a financial advisor firm decided today, Fellicia, you’ve convinced me, I need to change my practices. Are there organizations or support systems available for them to tap into to better educate themselves on how to have these conversations, how to run recruiting seminars, how to have a more inclusive mind set.
Fellicia Foster – There are. So Diversity MBA is an organization that has a ton of white papers on how to engage, promote, develop, have open conversations, dialogues, create inclusive cultures, all that — tons of the white papers on those types of topics. Korn Ferry also has a number of key research items that they’ve published that kind of showcases around how to create inclusive environments and have open and candid conversations around diversity and inclusion. But I also think that looking at your data and saying okay, what is this data really telling me. I think a lot of times we’ve spent over the years focusing so heavily on representation and saying okay is it good or bad. Did we check the box, did we hit our goal? Okay we didn’t, now what? But there’s so many other factors that play into representation, whether it’s from the point of which people are applying. Are we doing a good job of branding bringing people in? Are we like — what are we doing internally? When we think about people applying to our job and our job volume, application volume should I say is so low that it’s like how do we then expect to get through the hiring rate which we’re getting to. But if our application volume is good but we’re not hiring and we’re bringing in good talent, then maybe it’s telling us that we need to do something different with our hiring manager or promotions. You look at certain segments — diversity segments and say okay well certain promotion levels are not good and we’re also seeing the turnover happening on these segments. Maybe people are leaving because they’re not getting promoted or maybe they’re leaving for a number of different reasons. So looking at the data holistically and saying what is that telling me to then make informed decisions on how you need to react and engage. Because it’s not always we need to go hire more people. It’s not always you need to promote. It’s not always that you have retention issues. It’s just a matter of figuring out where the gap exists and then being able to develop a strategy off of that.
Emily Larsen – And so it is important to really look at your data to track what’s going on and spend time with it, both from understanding your workforce as well as developing a plan for the future. One of the questions I had is is it a requirement that people self-identify, right? Or is that something that firms see as optional.?
Fellicia Foster – It is. For some. Like I’ll give an example. Persons with disability. Persons with disability and military veterans are two segments that self-identification seem to be the farthest gap. And one because people may not know what disabilities are included and so they don’t count themselves into the population of those that may align. Military veterans, same thing, they don’t want to be counted in to that total because they don’t want this negative impression that oh well they’re in the military so they may be a certain way. And so that throws our numbers off right. So we may very well have a ton of military veterans in our workforce or individuals with disabilities. You do have the option to not provide certain information. And so to that end it does throw our numbers off because it’s not necessarily a true representation of where we are.
Emily Larsen – And then as a firm think about the financial advisory firms who might be smaller but is it customary, is it kind practice to have people upon on boarding self-identify. Is that then you feel like you’ve done your best in terms of trying to get data so that you can use it to develop your plan for the future or how does that process work, do you know?
Fellicia Foster – Yeah, so through the application process this captures and when they apply, if they choose to disclose it. If they don’t choose to disclose it then you’re walking into it without having that information. However, once they get there, they can also choose to disclose it once they have been hired at whatever firm they’re at. They can choose that information dependent on what platforms and systems that they have. But again it really depends on the individual and what they’re willing to provide and the connection of — I would even say the WIFM which is what’s in it for me for disclosing this information. And so a lot of times if they are applying to a company or even within a company that they feel as though diversity is truly a part of their brand, a part of who they are, then most people are like I want you to know that I’m diverse — I want you to know. Whatever segment that is, but in some instances when you have been known of making some interesting hiring decisions, promotion decisions, and things like that and people are uncertain as to how their data is going to be used, whether positively or negatively to impact them, they may or may not provide that information to you.
Emily Larsen – I was just thinking through the scenario that some of these concepts might be new and maybe some of the advisors who are listening don’t even ask those questions upon people’s applications no so that they can make thoughtful decisions down the road.
Ben Jones – We will put links to those resources in our show notes for easy reference. Speaking of recruitment, we asked for innovative ways to recruit diverse team members starting with school internships. One thing I took away from the answer is that you can’t just target a certain group and expect to diversify your firm that way. You need to actively work on the culture of your firm and create opportunities for relationships to build organically. If someone values diversity and can tell that you’re not committed, they won’t stick with you.
Fellicia Foster – It depends on what level. So for campus type, an internship level roles, yes. Going to historically black colleges and universities or Latino institutions or even looking at the demographics of certain universities to see what their gender equity is like and really taking a true assessment at what schools are you going to and what does that diversity look like to then be able to assess is that going to trigger the outcome for me to get a diverse pool of students to apply for my internship program. So that’s one thing. Can we then create an experience for them that, one, helps them understand the business holistically and will we create that experience where they feel like okay even after I graduate I’m going to work here. And if that’s not the case then obviously they may say okay yes thanks for the experience, I appreciate the income I got this summer and I’m out. But we really have to cultivate that experience and then bring them back in and they do need that rotational experience because a lot of times, especially with our youth today, they want different experiences quite often and so if we’re not creating that ongoing and getting them up to speed and ramped up to even prepare for promotional opportunities, they’re going to leave and they’re going to go to different organizations and thrive and then they’re going to jump around depending on if that organization provides them what they need too. So that’s from an internship level but I would say that when you think about it from a more senior level perspective I’ve seen a lot of companies go towards like they’re moving a lot away from career fairs and things like that. And having more in-house type of passive recruitment play on having events that we can open it up to a much broader audience and I’ll give you an example. Women in technology. We did an event that we wanted to, one; expose what we’re doing, BMO, and other companies as to what’s happening in the technology industry. But also what impact have women had on the technology space and the different opportunities that exist for women in the technology and operation space in financial services industry. And so it wasn’t a play on recruiting. It wasn’t a — we’re going to have a — bring your resume and let’s just talk from there. It was really just come learn about who we are, what we do. And then for those that are in the room, maybe recruiters, hiring managers and things like that, they’re building relationships with people. And so those relationships then become oh I met you at this event. I got a great opportunity that you may want to consider. Have you considered BMO as an opportunity? And so it goes from I’m just coming out here bringing my resume and saying here this transactional type of experience to now I’m building a relationship. I’m nurturing this space where I’m getting in front of a lot of passive — maybe passive, maybe active candidates. And then bringing them in where I may see that they may be a good fit. And so that’s where I’m seeing things moving in the direction towards versus a lot of the career fairs and things like that because now you have the people that want to be there in the room versus those that may be thinking that they may want you and kind of looking at everybody else in the room but now they know that I’m interested in learning about BMO and what they have to offer or even just this particular event. But I have them in the room, so hey. We did that for military veterans also. We had an event where we invited military veterans in the community through some of the partnership relationships that we had and said hey; invite your network out to this event. We’re going to have a panel discussion around the experience that military veterans have in corporate America, how to navigate it, things you should think about and then from there we had hiring managers in the room and other individuals that were aligned to our ERG built relationships with both and then I believe we got a hire from it. And so that in itself is a return on investment on something that you may spend maybe $3,000 to $5,000 on for a panel discussion and then getting one hire out from it is like a win.
Emily Larsen – It can be as simple as talking to your employees about wanting to go in this direction and everybody thoughtfully cultivating a network. It can be as simple as activating your current workforce to think differently about who should be recruited to build this diverse and talented team that can be more powerful.
Fellicia Foster – Right, some companies have had their senior person in their company is hosting a dinner and I want you to find one person that would be good to invite to this dinner that may be on the fence or may be interested in exploring a different opportunity that have the skills and abilities in this industry or in this space, particularly maybe financial advisors. And say come to this dinner, I want them to have an open dialogue with our most senior person and almost like an ask me anything session. And that just having them in the room talking about just open dialogue with the senior leader that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise had access to and again you build relationships and then it cultivates over time and then could eventually transpire to a hire.
Emily Larsen – This conversation made me think of like right when you look up in an organization who do you see, does that matter. Like do you look up to your president and see someone who looks different than every other president before him. Does that come into the work place? Does that come into play if people are looking for people?
Fellicia Foster – Absolutely. Absolutely, especially senior leaders. Some senior leaders it was a woman of color actually that made a decision to not come into a company because she didn’t see any diversity at their level and she was just like I don’t see how I’m going to be able to thrive in this environment because I don’t know how committed you all are to this diversity initiative. And I’m not saying that everybody would think like that but imagine the great talent that we may be losing simply because of it.
Emily Larsen – Yeah and it just goes back to reiterating your point earlier about who you are as a company, thoughtfully stating this, boldly stating it internally and externally so that people know so that there isn’t a question, right. So that candidate comes in the door and there’s not any confusion around the intent. The topic of today’s episode was requested by a listener, Charles B. Thanks so much for reaching out with your suggestion. It means a lot to us when listeners reach out with input to enable better conversations like this one. A huge thank you to Fellicia for sitting down with me and sharing her wisdom and insights. Be sure to check out the show notes page to see the resources she discussed. We’ll leave you with Fellicia’s thoughts on the future of diversity and inclusion.
What does the dream look like? What does the future look like? When are you out of a job because everything’s so wonderful — not that I want you to be out of a job, but right what is that picture?
Fellicia Foster – Well that’s the goal right? The goal is to get to the point where you don’t need me and my team. Like this is so embedded in what you do that people feel like they belong here, maybe coming from someplace where they didn’t feel that way. I would say that when we’re making hiring decisions that allow us to think more broadly and inclusively, who we’re bringing to the table on our team, right? It’s when we can have open conversations and not feel threatened by whatever comes out of that but looking to understand and get to a place where I really want to understand so that I can really help to add value in how we both engage. It’s so hard sometimes when you think about the future of where it could go, right? Because it’s like oh if we could only be there now – If we can get to a point where people feel like they can be their authentic selves where all of their energy is going towards being productive and adding value to their team and contributing what they have based on their experiences and skill sets. While we’re making decisions and it’s not just because this person is a woman or black. It’s just because they have the unique skill sets that are going to help us take our team to the next level.
Ben Jones – Thank you for listening to Better Conversations. Better Outcomes. This podcast is presented by BMO Global Asset Management. To access the resources discussed in today’s show, please visit us at www.bmogam.com/betterconversations.
Emily Larsen – We love feedback and would love to hear what you thought about today’s episode. You can send an e-mail to [email protected]
Ben Jones – And we really respond.
Emily Larsen – We do.
Ben Jones – If you thought of someone during today’s episode, we would be flattered if you would take a moment and share this podcast with them. You can listen and subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, or whatever your favorite podcast platform is, and of course, we would greatly appreciate it if you would take a moment to review us on that app. Our podcasts and resources are supported by a very talented team of dedicated professionals at BMO including Pat Bordak, Gayle Gibson, Derek Devereaux. The show is edited and produced by Jonah Geil-Neufeld and Sam Peers Nitzberg of Puddle Creative. These are the real people that make the show happen, so thank you, and until next time, I’m Ben Jones.
Emily Larsen – And I’m Emily Larsen. From all of us at BMO Global Asset Management, hoping you have a productive and wonderful week.
Disclosures – The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of BMO Global Asset Management, its affiliates, or subsidiaries. This is not intended to serve as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any company, industry, strategy, or security. This presentation may contain forward looking statements. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such statements as actual results could vary. This presentation is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute investment, legal or tax advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment product or service. Individual investors are to consult with an investment, legal, and/or tax professional about their personal situation. Past performance is not indicative of future results. BMO Global Asset Management is the brand name for various affiliated entities of BMO Financial Group that provide investment management, trust, and custody services. BMO Financial Group is a service mark of Bank of Montreal. Further information can be found at www.bmogam.com.