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Why Diversity and Inclusion Reaches a Screeching Halt in Wealth Management

The workplace reflects the conscience of the leaders and the culture they create.

Wealth management executives and leaders possess the ultimate control with hiring, promoting and firing of team members who shape the firm’s culture. And as these high-ranking leaders face the crossroads of sharing power and demonstrating vulnerability when exercising leadership decisions, the journey to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) often comes to a screeching halt.

Misaligned power is a very seductive force; fragile egos rise when insecure wealth management leaders feel threatened by team members who outperform, bring different perspectives, garner greater attention and hold them accountable for missteps. The common fix to assuage the leader: tell the team member that their action was a “breach of trust” or they are “underperforming;” then unearth lame evidence and move swiftly to squeeze them out. It typically works because team members rarely possess the legal, economic and social recourse to set the record straight. And business continues as usual with DEIB initiatives serving as a critical smoke screen for negligent behavior.

The manifestation of reckless leadership struck me when I watched the former star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith, own his role in destroying Janet Hubert’s career and livelihood due to his own insecurities. In the Red Table Talk episode, Will Smith reflects on how his power as the show’s star allowed him to disenfranchise Janet Hubert as a cast member. He painted a picture that she was “difficult to work with”—a label that erased her ability to fully monetize her human capital as a stellar actor, dancer and artist. Smith wanted her admiration on his terms; anything less was unacceptable. The opportunity to elevate a productive, diverse contributor to the team came to a screeching halt.

This script plays itself out repeatedly in wealth management. Whether at a major firm or a boutique RIA, these two forces rest in the hands of a nondiverse segment of leaders and decision-makers. It is a very scary proposition yet one filled with great opportunity for an increasingly diverse environment.

What will it take for wealth management leaders to get a handle on toxic leaders and work environments that suppress human capital and advancement of DEIB? Obviously, lawsuits haven’t been a strong enough deterrent for reducing such unfortunate mishaps.

The workplace reflects the conscience of the leaders and the culture they influence. This is why mission, vision and values are paramount for providing the framework for engagement and execution. The framework demands adherence, alignment and accountability. Checks and balances ensures the sharing of power and level of performance. Policies and procedures solidify expectations and encourage excellence.

And while this business framework seems straightforward, consistent courage, vulnerability and solid decision-making at each crossroad is ultimately what makes it work.

As a wealth management leader, what decisions will you make when presented with the opportunity to share power and extend your influence? Will you let progress continuously come to a screeching halt or will you consistently pursue #DoingTheWork with elevating different voices and perspectives and unleashing human capital for the benefit of all parties involved.

The choice is yours. What will you choose?

Lazetta Rainey Braxton is co-CEO at 2050 Wealth Partners.

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