There is no silver bullet.
We’ve heard this adage applied to so many things, but never has it been more true than today, when we as individuals, as an industry, as a community and as a country, are facing an opportunity to truly change the course of history.
Systemic racism has been more than 400 years in the making, so things will take time to progress.
While many of us are anxious for an immediate response, it’s important to remember that our response should be thoughtful and above all impactful, in order to lead to enduring change.
As a Black man in our country and a Black complex manager in a predominantly white profession, I’ve developed my opinions largely based on my experiences.
But there is always room to grow. Over the past couple of months, I’ve learned so much from listening more closely to my colleagues and friends, some who share a similar background, and some who have entirely different experiences.
I’ve also taken more time to learn from experts in the area of Black and African American culture and history.
How We Got Here
On Juneteenth, Raymond James Chairman and CEO Paul Reilly hosted two special guests — Johnnetta Cole, Ph.D., an anthropologist, educator and college president, and Kelly Charles-Collins, an expert in unconscious bias, bystander intervention and workplace investigations — for a firmwide virtual webinar and Q&A about race and its impact on the workplace.
Understanding that, in order to move forward, we need insight into how we got here, Cole shared comprehensive, emotional, historical context for what we’re experiencing around race and systemic racism in America.
She explained what she calls the collective memory of Black Americans, one that began 401 years ago when 20 enslaved African women and men were brought in shackles to America.
She took us through history, showing how significant events (many under the guise of progressive change) only served to further reinforce discrimination and inequity in our country.
Discussing the past and where we have come from can be painful to hear, but it’s important to recognize and acknowledge what’s happened in the past, or else we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes as we try to move forward from here.
One of the most impactful takeaways from Charles-Collins’ presentation was her description of the many cultures of our society.
She didn’t mean “culture” in the sense of ethnicity or even race. She meant macro-cultures, like our firms and organizations, and micro-cultures, such as divisions within a company, the various departments, and even our work teams.
While many firms are supportive of a diverse and inclusive workplace at a macro-culture level, the real work that individuals can do is within their micro-cultures.
She offered examples: Are Black colleagues being spoken over in meetings? Are Black women being asked about the professionalism of their hair?
When hiring managers are looking for candidates, are they reading into the organizations with which the candidate is affiliated, to determine if they seem “too ethnic” or “too Black?”
When someone is assertive about an issue, is the white colleague seen as being passionate, while the Black colleague is seen as aggressive?
Charles-Collins reiterated: It’s the small things that happen in our workplaces, and she challenged us to focus on those small things happening around us.
In those micro-culture situations, are we the perpetrator, accomplice, passive ally or advocate? What role will we choose to play moving forward?
To me, the content of the webinar was very emotional, impactful and at times raw.
Often during the webinar, I had to remind myself that this was actually a firmwide conference call, hosted and sponsored by our CEO.
The level of discomfort I imagined many were feeling on the other side of their computer screens sent a very strong message to everyone at the firm: Uncomfortable conversations are needed in order to solve this, and this call was not going to be comfortable.
It was clear. It was real. I was so appreciative of that and often found myself in my office, by myself, standing up and clapping.
Raymond James has been clear on its corporate stance against racism, evident in its pledge of ongoing support for the Black community, and Paul Reilly has continued to take a central, visible and personal stand on this issue.
Those messages of support have been consistent with conversations I’ve had with him in the past — that diversity and inclusion aren’t just good for business … they’re the right things to do.
Keep the Conversation Going
A month later, my colleagues (most of whom are white advisors) are still reaching out to me to continue the discussion. I am so grateful and encouraged. I’ve been amazed at the number of candid conversations I’ve had as a result of this call.
It’s opened up a type of real dialogue about the experiences of Black people in America, not only experiences from over 400 years ago and throughout history, but also those of Black professionals like me today.
I am one of only two Black professionals in my complex. Nearly all of my conversations have been with white or non-Black colleagues.
Many have asked how our complex can help, what we can contribute together, how we can make conditions better for Black people in our communities, charitable organizations we can assist and events we can host locally.
Questions have come up on how we can best support fellow Black advisors and what mentoring programs we can create to help their progression in our industry. As I mentioned, there is no silver bullet, but the outpouring of collaborative ideas is encouraging.
Months after the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many others that started this necessary awakening in our country, I’m excited to see these types of raw and uncomfortable conversations.
My colleagues and our industry remain activated, wanting to play a part in this movement. With continued momentum, I’m hopeful we’re on the verge of true change … enduring change that history will show we made together.
Tony Barrett is the manager of Raymond James & Associates’ Delaware Valley and a founding member of Raymond James’ Black Financial Advisors Network.