2020 has blurred the lines between work, home and community more than any other period in our history. Despite all the challenges, 2020 has been a year that I have grown more connected with the Mercer Advisors team and, even more importantly, with my mortality and with humanity. Those connections are what compelled me to send the note below to the Mercer team about the Black Lives Matter movement and to ask ourselves, “What can we do to be a positive force of change?”
The past few weeks have filled us with uncertainty, doubt, and, yes, even moments of hope. Today, I call all of us to look at the significant issues that are facing our country and ask ourselves, “What can we do to be a positive force of change?”
The recent tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery add to a history of terrible acts of racism in our country and expose the ugly truth – that these were not isolated events. For centuries our country has witnessed horrific acts against fellow humans due to the color of their skin, gender, age, faith, sexual orientation, or beliefs. Our country was founded with a declaration that all of us are created equal and that we have unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the relentless pursuit of that ideal that we must call ourselves to now.
The challenges in front of us seem insurmountable. Millions of Americans do not have the opportunity to pursue those unalienable rights. Even worse is a growing sentiment that others are actively working against them, or just as bad, are apathetic to their struggles. The Black Lives Matter human rights movement and the people they represent need us to stand beside them in this critical time and listen to what they have to say.
Over the last few weeks, I have felt anger, frustration, fear, sadness, guilt, concern, and disillusionment. I have heard from many of you that you are feeling some of the same things. And while I have experienced all those emotions, I realize that because I am not black, I have never had to live with a fear that when I go into a store, go for a run in my neighborhood or go to sleep at night that my life could end at the hands of others due to assumptions made about who I am because of the color of my skin. My heart truly breaks for those who feel desperate and are losing grasp of one of the greatest gifts of all – hope.
Our mission, purpose, and success as a company come with responsibility. Over the years, we have been active participants in our communities and social causes. But we must do more. I do not have all the answers. What I do know is that we will not sit idly by. The path ahead may be unclear, daunting, and uncomfortable. But we must move forward, and we will move forward together. Over the coming weeks, the Mercer Senior Leadership Team and I will be evaluating what actions we can take and how we can be an even greater force of change. We will also be engaging with our industry partners and peers to see how we can work together as one.
Our focus will be on doing the next right thing and the next right thing after that. We will need your help to guide our efforts. Please look for more communications from the leadership team and me on resources that are available for support and about forums we will be creating to listen to you. I invite you to share your story, your ideas, and your concerns.
We must all find the strength to be better and provide hope to those who are calling us to action.
Below are some of my observations and learnings since sending the note to employees and sharing it on social media in early June:
- Listening and Creating a Forum: I am blown away by the volume, passion and content of the responses that I received from Mercer Advisors employees. Over the past few weeks, we set up multiple Diversity Discussion Forums for employees to share their perspectives. Some shared support, others came with great ideas on how we could influence change, but the most powerful comments have been from employees who have had the courage to share their stories. All of those conversations have drawn our team closer and increased our resolve.
- You Don’t Have to Have All the Answers: I’ve heard from many industry peers that uncertainty about what actions they should take is holding them back from adding their voice. Our experience has been that our employees don’t expect the leadership to have all the answers. They expect us to listen, set the tone for change and then to empower them.
- Finding Allies: In the past month I have also connected with several industry peers, other executives and regional leaders on how we can collaborate. I’ve learned a lot from those that are further along on diversity and inclusion initiatives than we are as well as learned that if we join our efforts, we can have an even larger impact.
As a result of all the feedback and best practices shared by peers, Mercer is expanding our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in several areas, including our internal steering groups, scholarships, and internal training and development. It’s clear we have a long way to go and a lot to learn. It’s also clear that relentless forward progress is our only option.
Dave Welling is the CEO of Mercer Advisors, a comprehensive wealth management firm headquartered in Denver.