Sixteen years ago, I graduated with honors and secured jobs in successful financial firms. I had loyal clients who valued my dependability, work ethic, and results. I was even recognized as one of InvestmentNews magazine’s Top 40 Under 40. Why did I feel so powerless?
Earlier this year, a group of women and I attended a speaking workshop led by a business coach. On day one, she asked us to reflect on several questions:
- When you were little, what were you told about speaking up or speaking out?
- What images were you shown about a man or a woman speaking up?
- How often do you censor yourself?
- Where is your voice stifled?
- When do you find yourself not speaking the full truth?
- What are you afraid might happen if your voice fully opened up?
As we shared our experiences, the tears ran down my face. This series of questions opened up wounds from my childhood and career that have yet to heal.
The past few weeks have opened up even more wounds, as I see the breadth and depth of systemic racism and oppression in our country. Navigating through these systems that are operating exactly as they were designed has taken a palpable, emotional toll on me. George Floyd’s murder has led to an uprising that many of us haven’t seen in our lifetimes. Through all of this dialogue about injustice, I see my wounds, and those of my community, open up once again. Racial trauma is real.
It may come as a surprise to no one that white men dominate the financial planning industry. What those in power positions fail to recognize is how that space is an uphill battle for young black women. Through conversations with white friends and colleagues, I've learned that many are unaware of the daily struggles black people face every day in this country. I hope that sharing my experiences will help my white friends and colleagues understand our journey. Each incident I've detailed below touches on the intersectionality of gender inequality and racial discrimination.
While this is not a comprehensive list, I hope it also reaches the powerful white male who hires black women but consistently holds them down. Maybe he would deny that he's been oppressive. Maybe the word oppressive makes him feel uncomfortable. I challenge him to take my experience as a catalyst for change.
- Within six months of graduating, I passed three licensing exams. Two months later, I passed my fourth (the CFP exam). My co-worker, who was hired at the same time as me and hadn't passed a single licensing exam, received a more substantial Christmas bonus than I did.
- When I moved from out of state to take a job, I received a relocation bonus that barely covered my moving expenses. I didn't receive the money until approximately 90 days after moving. I later discovered that a white, male co-worker who came from a local firm received a more substantial signing bonus.
- Year after year, the company stated that it was giving only cost-of-living salary increases. Yet, I saw co-workers get promoted—some to partner status. While I cannot confirm, I would be surprised if they received only cost-of-living increases with these promotions.
- A manager told me that it was a mistake to assign me to a particular client (a large high-net-worth family) because I was only 27 years of age. Meanwhile, two white, male co-workers were assigned to similar clients at that age.
- A partner told me that I would get promoted when the office manager (a white woman) got promoted. The office manager and I got promoted at the same time, and she had the opportunity to purchase equity in the company, while I did not.
- A manager consistently reprimanded me for coming to the office late when I consistently worked late and overtime. During my tenure at the company, I came in as early as 4 a.m. and stayed as late as 9 p.m. Meanwhile, several co-workers who came in early would leave early and rarely worked overtime.
- A white, female partner told me that I was not smart enough to work at the firm. She specifically said that I might have thought I was smart, but in reality, the people I previously worked with were below average and that I'm average. She felt that everyone at my current firm was above average and that I was not.
- I received multiple bad performance reviews, and when I asked for specific examples, my manager had none. In the performance reviews that followed, many of the examples were either overly critical or completely false (and I had evidence to prove this). Meanwhile, white partners who compromised client information and made unethical decisions were not reprimanded.
Lack of Support
- After my first promotion in five years, my manager told me that I should have been promoted earlier. Despite that, I was only given a title change with no pay increase.
- During a conversation with a white, male owner of a large firm about my business, it became apparent that he had several connections that would be beneficial to me. When I asked him for help, he said that he could make introductions that could help me grow but had no incentive to do so. To add insult to injury, he said that if I were his daughter, he would take the time to help.
- During an interview, I was asked about my timeline for getting married and having children.
- Co-workers often asked about my hair when I changed my hairstyle, leading to lengthy "black hair" conversations. On several occasions, they asked if they could touch my hair.
- While I was only one of two black women in the entire firm, a partner I'd met on multiple occasions continued to introduce himself to me. He also never remembered my name.
These experiences over the first 10 years of my career led me to where I am now, the founder of Financial Staples, an independent financial planning firm. I knew that it would be hard to find an environment where I was valued, so I felt that my only choice was to create one for myself. I also wanted to use my professional and life experiences to help people who look like me. Today, I service technology employees, mostly from underrepresented and underserved populations (such as women, people of color and the LGBTQ community). The diversity statistics and experiences of black women in technology are very similar to those of black women in financial services. I relate with client stories, and I see discrepancies in salary and equity compensation between black women and their white colleagues in similar roles. It is an honor and a privilege to play a part in helping my clients grow personally, professionally and financially.
In the words of The Notorious B.I.G., “If you don’t know, now ya know.” Now that you know better, how will you do better? The black community can’t solve systemic racism and oppression without the help of allies. As a starting point, I encourage you to look for situations like mine in your environment. If you see things that are not right, speak up. Silence supports the oppressor. Find ways to use your voice or influence to help marginalized communities or to educate your own community.
These exercises have taught me that I can no longer be afraid to open up and speak up. I’m letting go of my past trauma and the effect it’s had on me. I’ve lived through these experiences so I can rise above and blaze a trail for those who come behind me. My reality has made me who I am and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish despite the many obstacles I’ve faced.
I hope that others are encouraged to share their reality. The more we speak up and share our stories, the more people will understand that our country has a serious problem. The sharing of our stories can lead to the empathy and compassion that is needed to support meaningful, long-term change.
Chloé A. Moore is a CFP and founder of Financial Staples, a fee-only financial planning firm in Atlanta.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn