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Top 4 Lessons From Commonwealth’s Summit for Women Advisors

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What You Need to Know

  • Research shows that for firms that want to be innovative and transformative, diversity, equity and inclusion is mission critical.
  • Firms need to build an accommodative, equitable work environment where people feel like they can have both a seat and a voice at the table.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion must be prioritized as a strategic lever.

Activist and author Verna Myers defines “diversity” as “being invited to the party” and “inclusion” as “being pulled onto the dance floor.”

This analogy often comes to mind in my work as chief diversity and inclusion officer at Commonwealth Financial Network. I also expand on it by adding “belonging” as “having a say in the choice of music played.”

These characterizations underpinned our 2021 Summit for Women Advisors, held virtually on June 23 and 24. The keystone event of our Women of Commonwealth initiative, the conference is aimed at promoting growth, influencing change and igniting the advancement of women in an evolving field.

This year’s event centered on the overarching ideas of community and inclusion. In keeping with these themes, we offered two sessions that sparked open dialogue around the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Guest speakers from Eaton Vance/Calvert joined us in a discussion on why DEI is important to corporate strength and driving change, while Commonwealth’s executive leadership delved into how to lead with inclusion to create a sense of belonging, which touched on steps Commonwealth is taking to ingrain DEI into our corporate DNA.

A few key takeaways emerged from these conversations:

1. DEI starts at home.

Research shows that for firms that want to be innovative and transformative, DEI is mission critical.

Our firm has a history of being well-intentioned. But to create and sustain an environment where everyone feels fully heard and fairly treated, we need to evolve from being well-intentioned to intentional by investing in infrastructure that’s sustainable.

At a high level, we’re looking at behaviors that yield equitable benefits for our staff, advisors and partners, as well as the communities we serve, and we’re taking action to integrate inclusive practices holistically.

2. We need to invest in women.

Many female advisors have told us that this financial career path is well-suited for women. Yet the truth is, women are still heavily underrepresented in the field, making up roughly 18% of the industry’s advisors.

Women make up 20% of our advisors at Commonwealth — this is a bit above the average, but we still have a long way to go.

According to our female advisors, fostering development is a critical area where we’re being more purposeful. In partnership with an organization called Spark, we’ve designed a new mentorship pilot program to roll out this fall that will involve our women advisors in mentorship roles.

It’s an important step forward from increasing awareness to building an infrastructure that directly helps women advisors succeed.

Additionally, we’re realizing that people need to recognize themselves in a community to want to be part of it. Therefore, we’re tapping the tremendous network of female advisors we already have to tell their stories through our public site, social media and other channels.

3. Inclusion is deliberate.

It’s crucial to create an accommodative and equitable work environment where people feel like they can bring their whole person, have both a seat and a voice at the table and feel heard.

There are systemic barriers we need to break down to do that, and further complicating things, we need to do it through the lens of COVID-19 and displaced racism. Both of these pandemics have been sobering reminders of the ongoing disparities and have furthered the gap for women and Black and African Americans.

4. Holding ourselves accountable is critical.

DEI can’t be simply “nice to have” — it must be prioritized as a strategic lever for how we do business. To that end, we’ve been making gradual but significant strides here. In the past year, we’ve:

  •  Increased diversity at the leadership level with key hires;
  •  Improved representational diversity within our internship program;
  • Rolled out a digital DEI Resource Hub;
  • Introduced a DEI Speaker and “Just Ask” Panel series, giving staff a safe space to share their experiences.

We also launched employee resource groups giving women, Black and African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Hispanic and Latin Americans, and LGBTQIA+ staff the opportunity to both represent themselves and feel represented.

While we’re still in the early stages of change, the opportunity to have meaningful — and sometimes uncomfortable — conversations during these summits and at our firm is refreshing. We have a long road ahead, but it’s journey, not a destination.


Scarlett Abraham Clarke is chief diversity and inclusion officer of Commonwealth Financial Network.

(Image: Adobe Stock)