TD Ameritrade’s recent National LINC 2020 conference in Orlando, Florida, featured candid talk about the advisory industry’s diversity and inclusion problem and the need to create a more welcoming environment for women.

Kate Healy, managing director of Generation Next at TD Ameritrade Institutional, moderated a D&I conversation panel at the conference in which advisors and industry executives pointed to incidents they themselves had experienced in their careers as members of what is still largely a white male-dominated industry.

For example, Lazetta Rainey Braxton, founder and CEO of Baltimore, Maryland-based RIA Financial Fountains, told attendees she resigned a few years ago from a wealth management firm after it didn’t stand up for her when a potential new client made a derogatory comment about African Americans.

Instead of declining the business of that client, “they took the client on,” recalled Braxton, who is African American. She looked into her legal rights in the matter, but “because the client said it at the client’s home, there was no recourse for me” and the firm “knew that as well, too,” she said. The firm, therefore, just “kind of skirt-tailed over” the issue, she told attendees, noting the incident “was the catalyst I needed to start” her own firm.

In addition, “I didn’t want anybody else to go through what I went through, so I decided to pour my energy into volunteerism” for the Association of African American Financial Advisors, she told attendees.

Under the leadership of that organization’s president, she set up an annual conference “because I wanted a gathering where I saw people who looked like me, who were doing exceptional things who were not honored for their craft and for what they brought to their profession,” she explained. That event is now in its seventh year, she noted, adding the goal is to “focus on the next generation of African-American financial planners.”

(On Monday, Braxton and another advisor, Rianka Dorsainvil, debuted their new virtual firm, 2050 Wealth Partners.)

In one jaw-dropping moment, Dasarte Yarnway, a financial advisor and founder of San Francisco-based RIA Berknell Financial Group, recalled that while working as the only African American man at one firm, its CEO claimed during a staff meeting that the worst thing that ever happened to the U.S. was the abolishment of slavery.

Noting that everybody in the room turned to look at him, he said, “it was that moment that I decided that I could create a firm” where he could “create a safe space that would allow us to serve everyone and do it in the fairest way possible.”

Summit Sexism

The challenges that women face while attending financial services industry conferences, meanwhile, gained a huge spotlight last year, after off-color comments made by Ken Fisher at the Tiburon CEO Summit went public.

Compared to some of the horror stories she’s heard about women’s experiences at financial services conferences, what Sonya Dreizler, founder of the consultancy Solutions with Sonya, has experienced aren’t the worst, she told LINC attendees.

“But they affected me” still, she said, noting that one of the main reasons women are “underrepresented” in the sector is that they “opt out” because they don’t see it as a safe place for them to be – or one where they feel welcome and included.

These conferences “can be a very challenging place for women — and maybe particularly [for] young women starting out in financial services,” she noted, adding she went to her first large conference of this type early on in her career and was one of the few women there.

After dinner on the first evening of the conference, there were a bunch of people planning to attend a “networking meeting at a strip club, and they invited me,” she said, noting she declined to go because she did not think it would be safe to do so. At the same conference, she was “propositioned” by another attendee, she recalled.

Thirteen years later, as CEO of a broker-dealer and RIA, she attended an executive-only conference and learned “the same kind of behavior” was in full force there also, she said, adding jokes were made about “putting roofies” in her drink. The latter kind of joking happened to her again in May 2019 at a conference, she said, adding that type of behavior is “not funny” and she knows somebody who was drugged at a conference.

The panelists agreed that one way to advance diversity in the industry is to continue having open dialogues about these issues.

When it comes to diversity, meanwhile, it is not just race and sex inclusivity that present major challenges for the industry. During the conference, Ron Carson, founder and CEO of Carson Group, encouraged advisors to invest in the younger generation because “less than 5% of our industry is millennial and I think that’s just a massive problem.” One clear sign of that problem, Carson pointed out: “We have more advisors over the age of 80 than under the age of 30 today.”

That shortage of young advisors stood out at both LINC and Schwab Impact in San Diego this past fall.

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