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Practice Management > Diversity and Inclusion

‘Diversity Is Just Good for Business’: Schwab’s Leslie Tabor

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When firms start placing greater emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, they’re taking more than just a step in the right direction. But what if they actively commit to DEI as an overtly powerful business initiative?

Indeed, “a firm can consider building DEI as a business competency that ultimately supports the growth of the firm,” argues Leslie Tabor, director of business consulting services and education at Charles Schwab Advisor Services, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

“Future clients are going to be more diverse. The following generation will identify with one or more diverse races or ethnicities. Diversity is just good for business,” says Tabor, winner of a 2021 ThinkAdvisor LUMINARIES award for Diversity and Inclusion.

She gives high priority to the concept of intentionality building a more diverse advisor force and helping those advisors reach their potential.

The anticipated expanded pool of diverse advisors “helps only if we’re intentional in our actions to cultivate a more diverse industry, to attract that talent into our profession” and give the advisors equal access to career development opportunities, Tabor says.

She began at Schwab Advisor Services — which serves RIAs that custody at the firm — as an administrative assistant and for 23 years has worked her way steadily up the corporate ladder.

She joined the firm right after graduation from the University of Phoenix with a Bachelor of Science in accounting.

In her current role since 2015, Tabor heads the strategic direction and execution of numerous diversity and inclusion programs, and partners with industry influencers to advance DEI in the industry and beyond.

A first-generation Filipino American, she says she gave herself more than a few boosts up that ladder over the years by “constantly raising [my] hand, looking for opportunities that gave [me] the chance to share [my] voice and ideas with the right people in the room.”.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Tabor, who spoke on the phone from San Francisco, where she is based.

She notes that a Schwab consulting program for clients launched last year, providing “a multi-year DEI roadmap and a 12-month action plan,” resulted in 94 of the advisors who set forth on the “five-month learning journey” “better positioned to build that inclusive DEI culture for their firm and make impact with it.”

Here are highlights of our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: Is the main goal of having a diversity of financial advisors to attract a diversity of clients?

I don’t know if it’s the main goal. It can be a goal for firms.

A firm can consider building DEI as a business competency that ultimately supports the growth of the firm.

The U.S. population is changing: Future clients are going to be more diverse. Diversity is just good for business. 

When a firm can focus on having a diverse workforce that represents different backgrounds and perspectives, they’re better positioned to innovate, problem-solve and can maximize business opportunities available to them.

Research shows that companies in the top quartile for both gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to outperform their industry peers.

Please elaborate on the next generation’s being more diverse than the previous two.

The following generation will identify with one or more diverse races or ethnicities.

One study [by the Pew Research Center] says that 43% of millennials identify as [non-white], and that’s only going to increase with the following generation.

How does that help the financial services industry?

It increases the pool of potential talent, but it helps only if we’re intentional in our actions to cultivate a more diverse industry, to attract that talent into our profession.

It definitely helps the DEI issue, but we’ve got to continue doing the work.

What were some findings that addressed DEI in the 2022 Benchmarking Study of RIAs who custody with Schwab?

We learned that women hold about 31% of the advisory roles. People of color make up about 11% of staff. 

So there’s definitely ongoing opportunity for us to attract more diverse talent into the profession.

Do misconceptions about the financial advisor job get in the way of bringing more diversity to the industry?

I think so. A few of the big misconceptions we’ve been made aware of is that after graduation, you’re on your own as an individual advisor. The reality is that [with Schwab Advisor Services], there’s an opportunity to partner with senior advisors at a firm. You’re not on your own.

Another misconception is that you’re going to start from scratch, and your success is shaped by your ability to find new clients — cold calling and all that. But that isn’t always the case.

We paint a picture of the reality.

I’ve heard from some advisors of color that after they were hired, the firms, in general, didn’t do anything in particular to make them feel welcome and comfortable. And there might even have been microaggressions directed at them. Your thoughts?

I‘ve heard the same stories myself.

Let’s talk about career development and being intentional to make sure people are given equitable access to those development opportunities.

It starts with helping your employees know what they want out of a career and then, with intention, working to align opportunities with that insight in mind.

Mentors and sponsors are really great for that, to nurture employees an understanding of what it is they want and then trying to deliver in a way that aligns.

What sorts of opportunities are typically available to diverse advisors?

[In a firm], there are high-profile projects, and then there are “housekeeping” projects: setting up for a team outing or setting up for meetings, taking notes at meetings, doing the budget.

Typically, the people assigned to those are either women or employees of color.

How can that be made more equitable? 

You need to align the insight you attain by understanding what employees want with the projects they actually get.

The high-profile projects that are in front of the senior leaders [would] give [diverse] individuals the opportunity to make an impact in a very meaningful and valued way.

What’s the impact of inclusive leadership?

This is a big topic. The main impact is increasing a sense of belonging, of community through leadership behaviors.

This isn’t just on the leaders’ shoulders to demonstrate, though. Every employee has the ability to do that, which impacts as a sense of belonging at the firm.

It helps to cultivate trust. It even contributes to the sense of psychological safety within a firm.

How does that affect employees’ attitude and behavior?

It allows people to really bring their authentic selves without fear of not being welcomed, accepted or judged.

It empowers employees to share their voice and ideas because they know it’s a safe place to, maybe, share a different perspective.

What are effective ways to attract and retain a diversity of advisors?

I tell advisors to take a look at their employee life cycle through a DEI lens — from recruiting through retention. Think about how you actually communicate your focus around DEI during the interview process.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who identifies as being part of an underrepresented group.

For instance, imagine yourself a woman of color being interviewed. What might that experience be like?

How else can advisory firms network to build diversity among its advisors?

There’s an opportunity to pull in some of your centers of influence that you work with regularly.

And look at the pipeline you’re trying to tap into. Are you connecting with diverse networks and organizations: local professional women’s organizations or business associations — and definitely colleges and universities?

Are you looking internally? There’s an opportunity to cultivate internal prospects by creating formal programs that define the milestones along the pathway to becoming an advisor.

How are colleges working with advisors to try to motivate more students to consider financial advisor as a career path?

Advisors are establishing programs with colleges and universities from which they can recruit talent.

For example, they’re setting up scholarship programs, and the winners get both an internship with that firm as well as a monetary award.

Some firms are coordinating student days. One I know of in Chicago partners every quarter with a local university to identify students to come in for a day and learn about the business.

But again, this isn’t without active and intentional effort by advisors to bring that next generation of talent into our industry.

What’s an example of a Schwab Advisor Services program that addresses DEI?

Last year we launched a DEI consulting program for our clients — a five-month learning journey. Participating firms walk away with a multi-year DEI road map and a 12-month action plan. 

Also, now they’re connected to 19 other firms who are on a very similar DEI journey. So they can learn from the cohort.

We started this in November 2021, and 94 of the participants said that they’re now better positioned to build that inclusive DEI culture for their firm and make an impact with it.

How is the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards trying to help women and people of color acquire CFP certification?

I sit on the board, and one thing we’re talking about is providing women with paid time off to study for the CFP [exam]. That could also include their firm’s paying for the [study] materials.

If they have the ability to provide these types of benefits, it creates a level playing field.

You’ve been with Schwab for 23 years. What’s your biggest personal goal now?

I’m a first-generation Filipino American and also a first-gen investor. I want to be a part of making investing accessible to my generation — not just my specific Filipino community, but anyone.

Did your family discuss money and investing when you were growing up?

Although my mom worked in financial services for 26 years, we weren’t having conversations about investing at the dinner table.

Did your mother’s being in the industry inspire you to enter it?

Yes. As a child, every Friday my dad and I would drive to the city [San Francisco] and pick up my mom to go to dinner. I remember playing with her Rolodex in her office. That dates me!

You’ve worked your way up to director of business consulting services and education from your initial job as administrative assistant. You must have been ambitious. Right?

Yes, I’ll give myself that credit. But I was lucky enough to have really supportive leaders who would challenge me to think about my career path.

When I came to the firm, my boss asked, “Do you really want to be an admin forever?” He saw my potential and put two paths in front of me: project management — “a strength of yours,” he said — or people management, because “you’re also great with people.”

I chose the people management route. With him and other leaders over the course of my career, there was active engagement in my development.

What did you specifically bring to the party to propel yourself upward?

I was constantly raising my hand, especially as an admin, looking for opportunities that gave me the chance to share my voice and ideas with the right people in the room.

Were there any hurdles to overcome?

If anything, there were personal hurdles that I put in my own way. Early in my career, in my mid-20s, I felt I wasn’t ready to be a people manager.

Would you do anything differently if you had that chance?

Being more intentional in thinking strategically about my career progression. For a large portion of it, I let my career happen to me instead of making my career happen. 

So for the second half, I’m thinking about what it is that I really find passion around.

I ask my mentees to ask themselves the same question.


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