Increasingly, clients and investors are seeking financial advisors who can empathize with their unique needs and life experiences and who reflect their communities and values. To build a more diverse financial advisor base, firms have prioritized recruitment.

But how diverse talent is coached, mentored and developed makes all the difference. Once diverse financial advisors are on board, it’s important to inspire them to set and reach their professional goals and provide the support they need to be successful.

Whether you are an advisor yourself or manage a team of advisors, focusing on professional development and programs that provide equal access to opportunities can help operationalize diversity efforts within your organization and lead to greater satisfaction for advisors and their clients.

There is a strong business case for fostering and developing diverse talent, yet progress has been frustratingly slow. Women and other diverse populations are significantly underrepresented in financial services. According to Cerulli Associates, just 16% of advisors are women, a low percentage especially considering that women make great advisors. Not only do they possess the IQ and the EQ required, they are naturally good goals-based planners, which is where the industry is headed. Further, they can help replace the large number of advisors who soon will retire.

As the trend toward client-centered and human-centered advice continues, developing a diverse team of advisors is key to delivering goals-based advice relevant to the unique needs of more communities and more clients. The more precise and personal the approach, the more a broad range of advisors is needed. To stay competitive in a challenging landscape, consider the following strategies to develop talent and improve client outcomes by operationalizing diversity and inclusion in your firm, your practice and your team.

1. Develop an authentic and inclusive environment.

If efforts to develop an inclusive culture are inauthentic or mere window dressing, it will quickly undermine the firm’s credibility and demoralize associates. It’s hard to regain that trust once it’s gone, so be sure program goals are attainable and have wide support. There must be sponsor-led leadership within the firm, practice and team. The objective is to have every associate feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and empowerment.

Developing this type of culture is an investment in better business outcomes. Engaged associates who bring their authentic selves to work function at a higher level, driving their own — and their firm’s — performance.

2. Establish programs that create equal opportunities.

Equal opportunity starts with a fair assessment of each associate’s abilities and strengths. But it must go beyond that baseline to an active campaign to truly equalize opportunity for advancement. That may mean mentoring programs, internal networking opportunities and active advocacy. Business resource groups also serve as a great way to establish a sense of belonging.

3. Pursue purposeful, defined career paths supported by community.

At the core of serving clients is a commitment to personal and professional development. To leave career and leadership development to chance limits advisors’ growth and effectiveness. By pursuing purposeful, intentional development, advisors can achieve more now and be prepared to provide the leadership clients and colleagues need as the workforce and marketplace evolve.

Fortunately, there is a growing body of work on best practices for adult learning. As associates define their own career paths, firms can draw on this research to design effective educational programs.

Also, the professional and personal growth journey is more productive (and more fun) if advisors can build a community through affinity groups, summits or other collaborative endeavors that facilitate information sharing and offer an opportunity to support others — to pay it forward.

4. Meaning, flexibility and opportunity for advancement are key draws for women and diverse advisors.

There are many reasons advisors choose their career path. The reasons that drive women to become advisors are different than those that inspire men. Ninety-four percent of new female financial advisors say the desire to help people reach their goals is a major factor in choosing an advisory career. That’s 10 percentage points higher than their male counterparts. In order to attract and retain women and diverse financial advisors, the industry must effectively communicate the benefits it offers, from workplace flexibility to unlimited earning potential.

Once advisors have joined a firm, it’s critical that they are given paths to promotion and see others like themselves in leadership roles. In an Edward Jones survey of female financial advisors, 52% said that promoting qualified women to executive leadership positions is the best way to attract and retain female talent. Being positioned for those roles is also critical. Eighty percent of female advisors said ongoing training and coaching is the most important thing their firm can provide. More than four out of 10 (43%) said the biggest piece of advice they’d give women is to find a mentor or coach who can help them.

5. Talent and development are key to a diverse workforce.

Many financial services companies understandably focus on recruiting as the way to build an advisor base that reflects their clients and investors. What comes after, however, is equally important. By creating an authentic environment, encouraging advisors to have a growth mindset and pursue a leadership path, and establishing a merit-based reward system, companies can operationalize diversity and inclusion. When diverse advisors thrive, everyone — and especially clients — benefit.


Kristin Johnson of Edward JonesKristin Johnson is an Edward Jones principal co-leading the Human Resources Division.