As a child, I remember my siblings, my cousins and me shouting “Look at me!” Look at me!” when we sought eyes and attention on whatever fun activity we tried. The stakes and shouting rose every time someone else got the praise and affirmation we wanted. also for ourselves.
Now, as an adult, the chant “Look at me!” seems overwhelmingly strong in wealth management, with white men clamoring to remain the center of attention – and opportunity – while underrepresented leaders and talent retort “Enough is enough!”
Having all eyes and energy directed towards you can be a very seductive thing. You often receive more credit than deserved with high expectations of success and effective leadership. High visibility and majority status come with privileges and pressures.
Yet the fascinating aspect of this human tendency to attract attention continues to wreak havoc in wealth management. White men, who make up the majority in C-suite and middle management, appreciate, but don’t realize, their perceived “preferred status” while quick to denounce any claims that privilege stems from their gender and race.
It’s easy for a wealth manager to expose the damage caused by reckless and unfair actions. After all, we are human.
Yet things also go awry when leaders demonstrate limited awareness of their privilege and anchor interactions with others based solely on their personal experiences.
In a recent Twitter thread, a well-known white female entrepreneur in the financial services space shared her experience and challenges launching and funding a startup.
A well-known white serial entrepreneur in financial services replied, in a tone-deaf manner, that he too had suffered the same setback and scrutiny when launching each of his ventures.
He centered his response on his journey without meaningful acknowledgment of his lived experience and poignant observations as a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry scrutinized by male-dominated investors. To his detriment, he sternly ignored the uneven playing field and sparked fury among many fintwit followers.
I immediately saw “Look at me!” when I read his long thread of tweets; so did other female financial advisers who shared their distaste for the widespread centering of white men. Centering your experience around the relationship can be a hard habit to break, especially when you hold the majority label.
The decentering process requires openness to other perspectives for effective communication and engagement. The best way to speed up the process is to join conversations outside of your comfort zone with the intention of listening and learning. Delve into research, books, and other relevant content to learn about the history, cultural nuances, opportunities, and challenges faced by colleagues with materially different experiences. Start with colleagues in your immediate circle who understand your intent and who can join you on the journey to deepen diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging. And, as often as you can, admit that you don’t know what you don’t know and stay open to discovery and correction.
Another important step is to recognize the potential destruction caused by FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to receiving attention, status, and relevance in an increasingly diverse environment. A finserv colleague recognized the weakening that can occur when the conversation focuses on a specific impacted group but the majority demand attention; she wrote in the Twitter thread that it felt like when “Black Lives Matter was co-opted into All Lives Matter as opposition”.
Wealth management non-majority leaders are rightly advocating for white men in wealth management to share the spotlight, listen with intent, and respond in a space-sharing spirit. Excuses such as “I didn’t know” and “I didn’t want to be [fill-in-the-blank]no longer hold the same grace given the multitude of data and conversations about inclusive leadership. For the sake of the profession we love and the clients we serve, let’s commit to #DoingTheWork to get talent and clients saying, “Look at us!”
Lazetta Rainey Braxton is co-founder and co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, founder of Lazetta & Associates.