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Practice Management > Diversity and Inclusion

From Intention to Action: Advancing DEI in Your Practice

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Last summer, during the period of heightened social unrest in the country, my then-5-year-old son asked me to explain my work as a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officer Although it was a challenge to put into age-appropriate words, it was a question I welcomed.

In my role as chief diversity and inclusion officer at Commonwealth Financial Network, it’s my job to help people understand what DEI in the workplace is and why it matters. We live in a diverse nation and world, and, frankly, our business success depends on our willingness and ability to commit to DEI efforts and the culture shifts this requires.

If more than one person works for your company, you’re diverse in some way—whether by race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, marital status, income, or something else. As a small business owner, you can focus on being inclusive and equitable toward the diversity you already have, while at the same time identifying what other types of diversity you want to attract.

Ask yourself: Do your staff feel a sense of belonging and that differences are embraced? Do they have a seat and a voice at the table? What about your community and your market — do your decision-makers represent all segments of it? It can make a real difference for the clients you’re looking to attract.

Employees and prospects alike need to see evidence of inclusivity and representation— whether you’re demonstrating the potential for a long-term career or creating multilingual client materials with equitable language.

Talk Is Cheap; Action Takes Investment

To successfully create and foster a truly diverse and inclusive organization, you need more than good intentions; your actions have to follow suit. Otherwise, your company is at risk of becoming one of many that commits to diversity in theory only.

Knowing where to focus your efforts can seem daunting — particularly if you’re not in a position to hire a DEI officer to take the lead. Keep in mind, though, that authenticity is key to your efforts, and you can make great strides just by starting with these solid first steps:

1. Foster Inclusion

This means authentically and genuinely welcoming historically underrepresented and less privileged groups. Your goal should be to create an environment in which your staff are comfortable being themselves at work and don’t feel as though they have to leave aspects of themselves in their cars.

How? Try tactics like crowdsourcing ideas and viewpoints from your staff and engaging them in conversation. This will help you really get to know your team so you can tailor your efforts to encourage long-term careers with your firm. And consider your current vendors, being intentional about partnering with diverse suppliers.

2. Measure, measure, and measure some more.

If you’re committed to driving DEI, your strategy should include gathering qualitative and quantitative data and dedicating time to understand what the data is telling you. You might want to start with a DEI survey to establish a baseline to measure trends and areas of opportunities.

From there, you can determine which areas need more attention and how resources need to be allocated. If your data suggests your top leadership is majority male, for example, consider a goal of increasing female representation by a certain percentage within a specific time frame.

Focus on two or three objectives to start and keep yourself accountable by reporting on progress to your staff, peer groups, clients, and other stakeholders. Context matters — so stay mindful of things such as your company goals and the demographics of your candidate pool and customer base.

3. Set clear goals.

What are you solving — and what does it mean for your internal workforce and your marketplace? Think about your DEI vision and what you’re aspiring to be, and then create a strong infrastructure to support this work going forward.

Consider things such as DEI awareness training and gathering data through staff surveys. Finally, assess your systems and people policies. Are they inclusive? Or are they creating or supporting inequities?

Change Isn’t Built in a Day

So how do you get to the point where DEI becomes part of your company’s DNA? At my firm, we get that DEI is not just a box to check— that moving from good intentions to meaningful actions is an active process.

We’re continually learning, identifying areas of opportunity, and building on our progress. It takes time, but what matters is making sure everyone in your firm is engaged in diversity conversations and has a role in shaping a culture of inclusion in meaningful ways.

To help you get your DEI efforts up and running, be sure to tap into the myriad free resources out there, such as and, and research what’s available in your community. Remember, your guiding philosophy shouldn’t be complicated.

When I explained to my son what I do for a living, he thought for a moment, then stated matter-of-factly, “So you teach people to be kind to each other.” Simple? Sure — and that’s a good place to start.

Scarlett Abraham Clarke is Vice President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Commonwealth Financial Network.


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