An open letter to planners of color
Dear black and brown practitioners of the financial planning profession:
You belong and we need you.
I write this letter with a full and open heart. With any level of success comes visibility, and with that comes a responsibility to lift up others. I want to continue being a part of the effort towards elevating the black and brown voices of the financial planning profession.
Over the years, many practitioners of color have reached out to me to share their stories. They tell me their confidence is sinking due to microaggressions in the financial planning profession, about their fear of being the only person of color in their firm, and how they’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of fighting both employers and clients to be themselves while doing what they love.
If you’ve ever felt this way, the truth is: I am you.
Many new planners and career changers see me as a thought leader when it comes to diversity and inclusion in this profession and assume I’ve “figured it out.” Yes, I do own a firm, I am growing my practice and I have learned how to navigate the profession — and while being the only person of color in the room 99% of the time.
But beneath the surface, there are layers to my story. You will find survivor's remorse, constant battles with imposter syndrome and more.
I’m facing exactly what you’re facing — and we’re in this together. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from my experience.
YOUR CROWN IS YOUR GLORY
That’s right — I’m talking about your hair.
Early in my career, I wore my hair straight or in a slick back bun because I was afraid of standing out more than I already did. I thought I needed to assimilate to be accepted and welcomed.
My feelings weren’t far off-base: Recent studies show women of color are still discriminated against in the workplace because of their hair.
I thought I had formed a good relationship with a client after three years of working with them. One day, I decided to wear my hair naturally curly because straightening it or wearing it in a bun every day was damaging it. When the senior financial advisor and I entered a conference room to greet our clients, the wife embraced me. When the husband reached for me, he didn’t let go. He held me by my shoulders and said:
“There’s something different about you ... ah, it’s your hair. It’s a bit more casual today.”
Casual, he said.
Will you have those type of interactions? Maybe. However, it shouldn’t stop you from being you.
As hard as it is, I’m asking you to hit “pause” and embrace your true self despite the discrimination.
Will clients — or even your colleagues — wonder how you can switch your hair to so many different styles? Yes. And that’s okay. Let them wonder. You have a right to take up space and be who you are.
'YOU IS KIND, YOU IS SMART, YOU IS IMPORTANT'
I once was told I was a “know-it-all” — and no, not by my parents.
An old colleague of mine called me that because they were frustrated by my willingness to voice my opinions and ideas. I started to doubt myself and feel less confident. I began to ask myself: “am I a know-it-all?”
Then I thought back to a mantra I learned from the movie "The Help." Viola Davis’ character reminded the child she was nannying that she was worthy by telling her: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” I started telling myself that every time I started to feel my confidence falter. It didn’t matter if one person thought I was a know-it-all. My intentions were good, and I had the education, experience, and the know-how to serve clients in an amazing way. We learn to speak love to each other even when others are saying the opposite.
The takeaway: Don’t let someone else’s insecurity break down your confidence, or your self-worth.
'SHINE BRIGHT LIKE A DIAMOND'
New planners of color should be prepared for culture shock — you may not see someone who looks like you at your organization.
It may be especially hard for those entering the industry from HBCUs. You went to a university where you were surrounded by people who looked like you. You probably saw fully expressed hair, bright colors and felt a sense of pride.
I did not attend an HBCU, but my four-and-a-half years at Virginia Tech gave me my firsthand experience with culture shock. I was one of a handful of students of color and as I got further along with my major, I was the only one.
I fortunately had years as a student to start feeling comfortable with being the only person of color in the room. When I transitioned to working in this industry, it was not foreign to me.
A young woman who graduated from an HBCU told me about her experience. She started with a large organization that wasn't an RIA after graduating. She felt overwhelmed as she entered her training program and started studying immediately, as she was expected to pass the series licenses and CFP exam within her first year. Getting acclimated to so many new things at once — adjusting to a new environment, a new culture, being one of the only people of color in her cohort — made her feel alone. She is smart and capable, and it's not that she was unable to handle the challenge at hand, but these feelings can be daunting when you're experiencing them for the first time in a professional setting.
As you ascend, you may often be the only person of color in the room. You may experience microaggressions and be new to dealing with a "last man standing" type of environment. It can be really discouraging and challenging to continue feeling out of place.
Let me assure you that you’re not out of place. There is space for you at the table, and it’s important to remember that as you grow.
FIND YOUR TRIBE
It’s important to find people you connect with — finding your tribe can keep you from feeling alone and give you a security blanket of sorts. Attending conferences, joining associations, and forming mastermind groups are some of the ways that can help you find your community within this profession
Finally, remember you do have an advantage, even though it may not feel like it. When you walk in the room, you are noticed. When you speak, people listen. When it’s your turn to hold the mic, be ready.
You are always the CEO of your career. While being empowered is important, remember you’re not alone. You don’t have to navigate the twists and turns of growing as a person of color in this profession without backup. There are so many mentors and colleagues available to you to help you grow.
I recently sat down with Lazetta Rainey Braxton, CEO of Financial Fountains, to record a mailbag-style podcast episode answering some of the most common questions we hear frequently from our colleagues. You can hear it here: 2050 Trailblazers: Pursing a career in financial planning.
Keep pushing. We got you.
Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP