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The Tool Kit for Sponsoring Black Female Advisors

Having a mentor is good, but a sponsor can champion a career.

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Last year I responded to a tweet about the critical importance of investing in Black women. As Chelsea Ransom-Cooper, CFP®, shared, “People still haven’t realized that investing in Black women is the best damn idea you could ever have. We won’t fail because we can’t afford to.”

Although the number of financial professionals holding the Certified Financial Planner™ designation hit an all-time high in 2020, Blacks and Hispanics still represent just a fraction of the total CFP population at 3,688 as of January 2021. With an even smaller representation of those who are Black women, improving the profession’s adaptability and longevity ought to be priority number one.

In a recent 2050 TrailBlazers episode, I spoke with author Minda Harts about the inequities in the financial services field and across corporate America. We discussed the importance of not only having white men and women as allies in the workplace, but the education around the harmful effects of bystander syndrome.

The question is how to make this happen.

Recruiting is obviously a key issue and one where the industry has a long way to go to make progress. But then there’s the change that needs to happen once that hire has been made. Mentors play a major part in the success of any developing professional. But I’d urge us in the industry to move beyond mentoring and toward sponsorship.

Readying Yourself for the Role

Although mentors and sponsors can be the same people, their roles differ greatly in terms of impact.

A mentor is someone who offers advice. A sponsor is someone who works in a position of influence and has an opportunity to potentially catapult the careers of others to the next level. As this Harvard Business Review article shows, the lack of sponsors for black women is a critical problem across many industries.

Many people ask about the best way to establish sponsorship programs in their workplaces. While there are a growing number of companies that have established Black employee networks, or employee resource groups, there need to be higher-ups in a position of power to listen to these community members and convert those conversations into action.

In this spirit, the role of the individual in effecting change is quite important; structure within organizations is needed, but it’s not as effective if the conversations remain in an echo chamber. Don’t get too caught up in establishing systems without a full understanding of how you can manage progress.

Last year I spoke to Carla Harris, vice chairman of Wealth Management and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, about how financial planners, and individuals in the broader finance industry, can lift up women and people of color to build a more inclusive environment through mentoring and sponsorship.

She described a mentor this way: “A mentor is the person that you can tell the good, the bad, and the ugly to, so by definition it has to be somebody that you trust. A mentor's job is to give you tailored advice, tailored specifically to you and to your career aspirations.”

A sponsor, Harris said, is even more critical:

“The fact of the matter is you can survive a long time in your career without a mentor, but you are not going to ascend in any organization without a sponsor. The sponsor is the most important of those three relationships and a sponsor is not the person you tell the good, the bad, and the ugly to--the sponsor is the person you tell the good, the good, and the good. Because this is the person that's carrying your paper into the room. This is the person that behind closed doors will argue passionately on your behalf as to why you should get the great bonus, why you should get the next great assignment, why you should get that great client list.”

As Harts noted, “Sponsorship is so important, especially for Black women, women of color, because oftentimes we don't have the same relationships that some of our colleagues have. And, oftentimes your name gets thrown in the room because you remind them of your daughter or something, but we don't always remind people of their daughter because they don't see their daughter in us.”

The Sponsorship Tool Kit for Financial Advisors

So where do you start on the path toward being a sponsor?

Act With Intention

  • As with any colleague, if you hold a senior leadership position, it is always good practice to act as an amplifier. An easy directive? Be sure to give someone credit by name for good ideas they propose.
  • Extend invitations to colleagues to meet influential people in your network through both formal and information opportunities.
  • Pay them for their expertise! Lean In reports on average, Black women in the United States are paid 38% less than white men and 21% less than white women. Moreover, “In meetings and other common workplace scenarios, 54% of Black women are often the only or one of the only people of their race/ethnicity in the room.” If you’re asking them to bring their subject-matter expertise to improve your company’s bottom line, be sure to compensate them accordingly.

Ask Questions and Spread the Love Around

  • Don’t assume you’re the only expert. When asked technical or content-specific questions, poll employees and colleagues for their input, and be sure to source them appropriately.
  • If you are frequently given tasks in public roles, coordinate with your team to spread these opportunities around.

Speak Up and Out

  • When keynote speaker opportunities become available, advocate to have them filled with Black women.
  • And on a related note, insist on representation--don’t say yes to speaking opportunities unless they are committed to diverse points of view. A word of caution for those stepping into the role of a sponsor (or even a mentor) Impostor Syndrome is real and prevalent, affecting most of us at some point. Don’t doubt your capabilities to do good in this area. Utilize your position, network and voice to affect change.

It’s time to reject bystander status and work together with Black and brown colleagues to unify the office, create a more inclusive workplace culture, and deliver on the unmet financial promises to clear the path to prosperity.

As a sponsor, your role in this movement can be life-changing.

Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP is the co-founder and co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, a virtual, fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm dedicated to serving first-generation wealth-builders, entrepreneurs, and thriving professionals. Dorsainvil also hosts 2050 TrailBlazers, a podcast aimed to address the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession by engaging industry experts and leaders in conversation. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Morningstar.

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